Living with Diabetes

Smoking and Diabetes

Smoking and Health

Smoking cartoonThough this leaflet is aimed primarily at people with diabetes, the overall health impact of smoking applies to everyone.

The following diseases are linked to smoking:

  • atherosclerosis leading to heart attacks, strokes and circulatory problems
  • Chronic obstructive airways disease (chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
  • cancer of the lungs, larynx, mouth, urinary bladder and cervix

Hard Facts on Smoking and Diabetes

Smoking has many bad effects on health, especially if you have diabetes. Many people link smoking with an increased risk of cancer. In patients with diabetes smoking makes many of the problems due to diabetes much worse.

Diabetes can cause high levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol, which can lead to hardened arteries.  Smoking also damages blood vessels and causes widespread problems with blood flow, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as poor circulation in the legs. It is estimated that smokers double their risk of these conditions.

Why quit ?

Simply put you will feel better and live longer. Within a few months of smoking cessation your circulation and breathing may improve. After five years your risk of having a heart attack is halved and within ten years approaches that of non-smokers. Research has shown that people who quit smoking can live a lot longer, regardless of the age at which they quit (American Journal of Public Health (Vol. 92, No.6: 990-996), though younger people gain the most benefit from stopping. If pregnant your chances of having a healthy baby wil bee much greater.

Aside from the health benefits of smoking cessation, you may also notice other changes. Your senses of taste and smell often improve. Breathing may become easier and if you had a 'smoker's cough', this may settle. Effort tolerance or stamina may increase. This is partly due to lower levels of carbon monoxide in your system. Long term damage to the lungs such as emphysema are unfortunately irreversible.

Health effects aside, you will save money by stopping smoking!

I have tried to quit but can't

Many people attempt to give up smoking several times before being successful. The separate leaflet on 'how to kick the habit' may provide some useful suggestions.

Is smoking harmful to others?

Yes. It has been shown that passive smoking is equally or more harmful than smoking yourself. You may be placing the health of your family or children at risk by continuing to smoke, increasing their chances of heart and lung disease.

Why is it difficult to stop ?

Smoking causes physical and psychological dependence. These effects are due to nicotine and other compounds in cigarettes. When you stop smoking you may experience some or all of the following withdrawal symptoms

  • craving for cigarettes
  • irritability and anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating

Is it worth my cutting down?

Yes. Any reduction is worthwhile, but it is far better to quit. Remember, smoking as few as five cigarettes a day can double your risk of having a heart attack.

How can I avoid weight gain?

Stopping smoking does not mean you will automatically gain weight. Nicotine alters your metabolism and the rate at which you burn up energy. When you stop smoking your metabolism actually returns to normal. Also, when you quit you may find your sense of taste and appetite improves which can result in putting on weight. You can avoid weight gain by being aware of this and restricting your diet accordingly. Plan your meals and stick to low-calorie snacks and drinks. Exercise regularly and monitor your weight.  Speak to your dietician who may be able to suggest methods of dealing with symptoms of hunger.

I have smoked for years - is there any point in stopping?

Yes of course. Ten years after you stop smoking your risk of having a heart attack would be the same as that of a non-smoker. Stopping smoking is the most significant health benefit you can achieve on your own.

Where can I get more information?

For local advice and information, please see the Suffolk Stop Smoking website.

Action on Health and Smoking UK (ash) -

NHS website -

NHS smoking helpline - 0800 169 0 169


Dr Nishan Wijenaike, Consultant Physician
West Suffolk Hospitals Diabetes Service
October 2002