Smoking and Diabetes – Dangerous Combination, Effects, How to Quit

Posted May 18, 2020 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

It is estimated that roughly 34.2 million Americans smoke according to a 2018 survey. A 2015 report stated that over 30 million Americans have diabetes, and another 84 million have prediabetes. Given the sheer number stated in these reports, there is bound to be overlap among people that smoke and have diabetes.

So, in this article, we are going to discuss the devastating effects smoking and diabetes can have on your body. Before getting into the details, though, here’s a brief look into what we will be discussing.

Smoking and Diabetes: Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, and diabetes is a condition that was ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S in 2015. Smoking with diabetes can worsen your medical condition can cause your blood sugar levels to be uncontrolled. The combination of smoking and diabetes can put you at an increased risk of serious and life-threatening health complications.

Here is everything you should know about smoking and diabetes.

How Smoking Increases Your Risk of Diabetes

Smoking and Diabetes

According to Mayo Clinic, individuals that smoke heavily are twice as likely to develop diabetes when compared to people that do not smoke. But why is this?

The evidence shows that tobacco use can lead to insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes. Smoking causes inflammation inside the body. The chemicals ingested from smoking damages cells, causing swelling. This impairs the proper function of the cells.

Smoking cigarettes has also been associated with a higher risk of obesity. Increased fat in the abdomen region increases the body’s production of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that causes blood sugar levels to rise.

So, since an individual that smokes is impairing the function of cells, the cells are not able to respond appropriately to insulin. If the cells do not respond to insulin, then glucose remains in the bloodstream leading to elevated blood sugar levels. If you combine this with abdominal fat that leads to a higher production of cortisol levels, then one can see how smoking increases your risk of diabetes.

How Smoking Affects You if You Already Have Diabetes

If you already have diabetes and smoke, then it may be more difficult to control blood sugar levels. Having diabetes means that you have to take medicine, whether insulin subcutaneously or oral medications, to keep your blood glucose levels in range.

So, smoking with diabetes may impact the effectiveness of your medications, depending on how much you smoke. This is because your cells may continue to be damaged and gradually become less and less responsive to insulin over time.

Smoking and diabetes will increase your risk of having serious life-threatening health complications down the road. It increases your risk of having damage to your organs, as well as an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Why Smoking With Diabetes is Harmful

As mentioned above, smoking and diabetes can lead to serious health complications. We have outlined the complications that are associated with smoking and diabetes below.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage is something that people with diabetes have to worry about, and that’s without throwing smoking into the mix. This nerve damage may also be known as peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy causes numbness, pain, and loss of sensation in the feet, legs, and hands.

Poorly controlled diabetes, or chronically high blood sugar levels, damages nerves. It is common among many people that have diabetes.

Smoking impedes blood flow, which harms nerve cells that are responsible for communicating with the brain. The damage to nerve cells will gradually become worse with the continuation of smoking.

So, the combination of smoking and diabetes can lead to severe peripheral neuropathy. This leads to an increased risk of infection, as a person may not realize they have a cut or sore on the bottom of their foot. So, since they do not feel the cut, they delay treating it, which makes it much more likely to become infected. Infectious like this can become very serious, leading to amputation.

Joint Pain

Smoking is a major contributing cause of osteoporosis and deterioration of spinal disks. Those that smoke are also more likely to experience pain in their joints.

People with diabetes may also experience an increased risk of joint pain. This is partly due to nerve damage associated with high blood sugar levels.

Ultimately, smoking and diabetes may cause increased joint pain over time, which can impair an individual’s mobility and an inability to perform daily functions.

Kidney Disease

Diabetes is a significant contributor to chronic kidney disease. Poorly managed diabetes can cause harm to the blood vessels in the kidneys. These blood vessels are responsible for filtering waste out of your blood, but if the vessels are damaged, then they won’t work properly. This then leads to decreased kidney function and, eventually, kidney failure.

Smoking only adds to this damage. The toxins that are ingested through smoking only progress kidney disease and increases the amount of protein in the urine. So, the combination of smoking and diabetes increases one’s risk for kidney disease significantly.

High Blood Pressure

Smoking and Diabetes

Elevated blood sugar levels from diabetes will eventually cause damage to organs that are responsible for stabilizing blood pressure.

Smoking can immediately raise your blood pressure levels and overtime cause damage to the walls of the arteries. High blood pressure is certainly a risk factor for individuals that are smoking with diabetes, and high blood pressure can lead to other major health complications.

Cardiovascular Disease

People with diabetes have been shown to develop cardiovascular disease earlier than those without diabetes. Smoking will contribute to cardiovascular disease even more as it can cause plaque buildup in the arteries.

Increased Blood Sugar Levels

Smoking when you have diabetes can cause your blood sugar levels to become uncontrolled. And as you can see, uncontrolled blood sugar levels are detrimental to many aspects of your health, especially if you smoke.

Increased Cholesterol Levels

People that smoke tend to have higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). People that have diabetes are also prone to have increased levels of LDL. So, smoking and diabetes will cause a person to have even worse levels of bad cholesterol.

How Quitting Smoking Affects Diabetes

Quitting smoking can have tremendous benefits for your health.

Before getting into what these benefits consist of, it is important to note that individuals tend to gain weight after they quit smoking. This poses a risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The first health benefit that diabetes patients will experience after quitting smoking is improved blood sugar levels. By quitting smoking, you are removing the additional stress placed on the cells allowing them to respond to insulin more appropriately.

By first improving your blood sugar levels after quitting smoking, you have a significant advantage of improving your overall health. This includes lowering your risk for kidney disease, gum disease, eye disease, foot problems, and other peripheral neuropathy issues.

When it comes to quitting smoking, it is not easy. Many individuals may experience increased food cravings once they quit smoking. These cravings can have negative impacts on your blood sugar levels. So, it is crucial that you maintain a healthy diet and stick to a regimen suggested by a doctor.

Tips for How to Quit Smoking

Smoking and Diabetes

It is essential to take steps to quit smoking cigarettes if you have diabetes to gain better control over your health. Here are some tips and steps you can take towards quitting smoking.

  • Set a goal. Have a date in mind for when you want to stop smoking completely. This gives you something to strive for.
  • Talk to your doctor about your goal and ask them for any advice they may have.
  • Take steps to make smoking cigarettes inconvenient. You can do this by getting rid of any ashtrays, extra cigarettes, or lighters that you have. You can also spend more time in places where smoking is banned.
  • Surround yourself with people and friends that have your best interest in mind and are on a similar path as you.
  • Exercise regularly to help manage your stress.
  • Caffeine and alcohol can increase your urge to smoke. Consider limiting your intake of caffeine and avoid alcohol to help prevent your cravings to smoke.
  • Identify what your habits were and take steps to replace them. For example, if you have the habit of always having a cigarette in your hand during breaks at work, then replace that with going a walk with a coworker or picking up a new hobby, such as drawing to keep your hands busy.
  • Discuss your goals with your family and close friends and ask them to support you.
  • Talk to your doctor about using nicotine replacement therapy.


We hope this has given you a better understanding of how smoking affects diabetes and what you can do about it. We understand that coming up with the money to pay for the medications you need only adds stress to your life. This makes smoking and diabetes even more difficult to manage.

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