Smoking and Diabetes

There’s a link? Yes—and you may be surprised how strong it is

Crumpled cigarette on the ground

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 84 million Americans have prediabetes, although about 90 percent of them don’t even know it. Those who are aware often take steps to decrease their risk of developing full-blown type 2 diabetes by losing weight, exercising, and eating healthy.

These are all very important steps, but many people often overlook one big thing they can do to cut their risk of diabetes—quit smoking. Breaking this one habit can help prevent the onset of diabetes and bring on many other health improvements as well.

If you smoke and are among the 30 million Americans already living with diabetes, quitting can make your condition easier to handle. Quitting can also help you avoid many of the complications that come with diabetes so you can live a healthier, happier life.

Here’s what you need to know about how smoking causes diabetes and why you should quit:

Smoking Can Cause Type 2 Diabetes

On the surface, it’s not obvious that smoking could contribute to a person developing diabetes, but it’s true. A 2014 Surgeon General’s Report found that smoking is often a cause of type 2 diabetes. Adults who smoke cigarettes increase their chances of getting the condition by 30 to 40 percent. And the more you smoke, the more likely you are to develop diabetes.

Your Cells on Tobacco

There are two main ways cigarettes affect your body’s systems on a cellular level. When you smoke, it sets off an inflammation response. Inflammation happens because the chemicals from smoking damage cells. This messes with your normal cell functioning as those damaged cells swell up. Also, every time you smoke, the smoke mixes with the oxygen inside your body, resulting in something called oxidative stress. This also damages cells. According to the CDC, there’s evidence that both inflammation and oxidative stress increase your risk of diabetes.

Smoking and Your Weight

You probably already know that maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to fight off diabetes. Smoking seems to make this already-difficult goal even harder to achieve. And smoking is associated with abdominal obesity—aka belly fat—which increases your risk of developing diabetes. That’s because belly fat causes the body to make more cortisol, a stress hormone that also tends to raise blood sugar.

Quick quiz: How can quitting smoking help people with diabetes?

  1. It can protect their vision.
  2. It can lower their risk of heart disease and stroke.
  3. It can protect their dental health.
  4. All of the above.

If you answered “D,” you’re right—and while these benefits are true for anyone who kicks the habit, they’re even more important for people with diabetes. That’s because having blood sugar that’s too high for too long can increase the risk of health problems in all these areas. Smoking greatly increases the risk of gum disease, for example, as well as vision loss.

Ready to Quit?

Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but you aren’t in this alone. There are many free resources for people looking for support and information. You should talk to your doctor about programs in your area. Start now by picking a quit date and learning more at the American Lung Association.