Most of us know that smoking is horrible for one’s health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, yet over 34 million Americans still smoke tobacco cigarettes nearly every day.
Unsurprisingly, smoking is even worse for your health if you live with diabetes. This article will outline the reasons why smoking is so bad for people with diabetes and what you can do to stop smoking.
Smoking Is Bad for Everyone
Smoking is the leading cause of lung diseases, including COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also contributes to the growth and development of many types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon and rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia. On average, life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers.
The American people have known for a long time that smoking causes cancer. Nearly 60 years ago, in 1964, the then U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued a definitive report linking smoking cigarettes with lung cancer for the first time. Smoking is even worse for people living with chronic diseases, especially diabetes.
Why Is Smoking Especially Bad for People With Diabetes?
People with diabetes who smoke are more likely to have serious health problems and complications, including heart and kidney disease, poor blood flow to the extremities, increased risk of infections, higher incidence of foot ulcers, increased rates of lower limb amputation, and retinopathy, which increases the likelihood of blindness than people with diabetes who do not smoke.
Why is this so?
People with diabetes are constantly working to manage their blood sugars and prevent complications brought on by the disease that include damage to the nerves, eyes, kidneys, and heart. The tobacco in cigarettes exacerbates these issues and accelerates the rate of decline in a person already suffering from a chronic disease.
There are over 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes, 70 of which are directly linked to the development of cancer, aging, and oxidative stress. For example, some of the chemicals found in cigarettes include toilet cleaner, candle wax, insecticide, arsenic, nicotine, lighter fluid, and carbon monoxide, just to name a few. These addicting, dangerous chemicals cause harm to your body’s cells, interfering with their normal function.
In a person with diabetes, the harm caused by a cigarette’s chemicals and nicotine causes chronic inflammation, resulting in insulin resistance and higher blood sugars, and thus makes it harder to manage one’s diabetes.
All of these issues compound to make diabetes management harder, and complications more likely. For people with diabetes, the health risks of smoking a cigarette is four times greater than for someone without diabetes.
Even more striking, a 2014 study revealed that smokers are 30-40% also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, making the relationship between cigarette smoking and diabetes a vicious cycle.
Reduce Your Risk and Improve Your Health by Quitting Smoking
The best thing to do if you have diabetes and smoke is to quit immediately, and it’s never too late to quit! Quitting smoking before age 40 results in lifespans as long as people who have never smoked, and one’s lungs start to immediately heal the day they stop smoking.
Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of death (associated with continued smoking) by 90%, and quitting before age 30 avoids more than 97% of the risk of death associated with continued smoking into adulthood. The sooner, the better, but there never is a bad time to quit smoking.
Studies have shown that people who have diabetes start to respond to insulin better and their insulin resistance drops within 8 weeks of quitting smoking.
Quitting smoking may be one of the hardest tasks you ever undertake, but the benefits are worth it: a longer, healthier life, better blood sugars, lower HbA1c levels, and fewer diabetes complications.
How to Stop Smoking
There are many resources available to people who want to quit smoking, including:
- Telephone quitlines
- Smoke-free apps
- Smoke-free texting programs
- Support groups
- Nicotine replacement therapy such as gums or patches
- Support from family and friends
- Yoga and meditation
- Experimental treatments, such as hypnosis and acupuncture
If you have diabetes and you’re a smoker, take heart: there is never a bad time to quit smoking, and quitting smoking won’t only improve your overall health, your diabetes management will likely become easier as well.
Quit smoking not only for yourself but for the health of your family as well. Lean on your loved ones for support, and work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that will work for you, minimize withdrawal symptoms, and make the transition to a smoke-free life easier.
Whatever it takes, give yourself grace: a new study reveals that smokers try to quit 30 times before they succeed, and living with the stress of diabetes can make those attempts even more challenging, but definitely more worthwhile for you and your health.
Have you quit smoking or tried to quit smoking in the past? What has worked best for you? Share your story in the comments below.