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Smoking and Diabetes

Brooke Marsal, MS, RD
July 21, 2021
March 6, 2023

We all know smoking is bad for your lungs, but do you know that smoking can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

According to CDC, research has found that smokers are 30-40% more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers. The more cigarettes that are smoked, the higher the risk of developing diabetes and other complications like heart disease, kidney disease, and neuropathy. In this article, we will take a look at how smoking impacts diabetes, the impact of cigarette alternatives, and where to start if you are looking to quit smoking.

What Happens When You Smoke

When you smoke a cigarette, you are exposed to a mixture of about 7,000 chemicals and reactive oxidative substances that are generated while burning tobacco leaves. These chemicals and oxidative substances are toxic to cells, and can:

  • Permanently damage tissues
  • Cause cells to become inflamed
  • Cause cell mutations  
  • Switch on carcinogenic genes
  • Impair immune function
  • Stimulate the development of autoimmunity

How are Cigarettes Related to Type 2 Diabetes?

It is believed that inflammation caused by smoking leads to the development of type 2 diabetes. Cells that are inflamed become swollen, which interferes with a normal function such as in the pancreas’ beta cells (the cells that produce insulin). Smoking also leads to elevated cortisol levels, which raises blood sugar. 

What About e-cigarettes and Vapes?

The impact of e-cigarettes (also called vapes) on diabetes is unknown since there is limited research. However, e-cigarettes could still be dangerous. The aerosol from e-cigarettes contains the following harmful substances:

  • Nicotine
  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled 
  • Flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical that has been shown to cause lung disease
  • Chemicals that cause cancer
  • Heavy metals (e.g. nickel, tin, and lead)
  • Volatile organic compounds

It is only recommended that you use e-cigarettes if you are trying to switch from regular cigarettes. It is not recommended that anyone start using vapes if they don’t already smoke.


Quitting Smoking

If you are looking to improve blood sugar, one of the best things you can do is stop smoking. Research has found that the body becomes more sensitive to insulin just 8 weeks after quitting smoking! Talk to your doctor about the best method for quitting to better manage your blood sugar levels.

Smoking can cause many health issues, including diabetes. If you are looking to transition away from smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes are a good first step. While quitting can be challenging, it is always worth the reward and is possible! 

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