Smoking and Diabetes: Why Quitting Is So Crucial

Smoking when you have diabetes creates an even more toxic environment for your heart and other organs.

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Truth #1: Cigarettes are bad for your health. Truth #2: Quitting smoking can be extremely difficult to do. But there’s a third truth here that can be a real wake-up call to those with diabetes who smoke. As harmful as cigarettes can be to your health, know that risk multiplies significantly once you add a diabetes diagnosis to the mix. And while quitting can be one of the hardest things in life to achieve, it may be helpful to understand just how much of a toll cigarettes take on your health with diabetes.

“People [with diabetes] who smoke have a faster disease progression and they suffer more of the consequences,” says certified diabetes educator Sandra Arevalo, RDN. “For example, things like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, strokes, even heart attacks; they're higher in people who smoke.”

“Diabetics who smoke have higher than normal A1C levels than a regular diabetic who does not smoke,” says internal medicine doctor Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD.

One of the challenges for getting diabetics to quit smoking is that they may not have life-changing symptoms, say, the way someone who’s suffered a heart attack might. “If someone comes to you and they're having chest pain, and you tell them they're having a heart attack, they're gonna be pretty motivated to change,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, an internist in New York City. “But if you just tell them, ‘well, your sugar's 150. You really need to do something to reduce it,’ sometimes it's a little bit more difficult.”

What Dr. Knoepflmacher stresses to patients is how quickly the health benefits of quitting smoking take effect. “What I tell people is that their risk of lung cancer, of lung disease, of heart disease, of stroke eventually starts to move back toward baseline the longer they've stopped smoking.”