Is Smoking a Bad Idea for People with Diabetes?

We all know that smoking has been associated with a number of health hazards, including an increased risk of cancer, but for those with diabetes, lighting up a cigarette can lead to even more serious health complications.

While many people with Type 2 diabetes are already at higher risk of damaging their cardiovascular system, if you add smoking to the mix studies have shown you double the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, affecting both the heart and blood vessels.

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, smoking has also been shown to increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, with smokers 30-40 per cent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. Heavy smokers, or those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day, almost double their risk for developing Type 2 diabetes compared to non-smokers.

And with 13 per cent of the population still smoking on a daily basis, it’s a major health concern for Australia.

Researchers, including American-based professor Xiao-Chuan Liu, says his research has shown people with diabetes who smoke have higher blood sugar levels, making their condition harder to control than those without diabetes. Prof Xiao-Chuan’s research shows nicotine is the main culprit because when it is added to human blood samples, it raises the levels of Haemoglobin A1c, which is an indicator of blood sugar content in the body.

Keeping blood sugar levels in check when you have diabetes can be challenging enough, but if you smoke, it can make your body more resistant to insulin.

What are the risks for people with Type 2 diabetes?

The combination of smoking and Type 2 diabetes, can lead to a higher risk of complications including heart and kidney disease, retinopthy (an eye disease that can cause blindness) and peripheral neuropathy (damaged nerves in the arms and legs.)7

Smoking also makes exercising more difficult. The more you exercise, the faster oxygen is used up in your body. Cigarettes contain carbon monoxide, which acts in the opposite way, reducing the amount of oxygen available in your body and can lead to feelings of breathlessness and make it considerably more difficult to finish a basic workout.

The chemicals in cigarettes can also have a lasting effect on blood circulation in the body. They attack blood vessels which harden the arteries, impairing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen through the body.

Smoking also decreases lung capacity which can cause a smaller amount of oxygen to reach the blood. The chemicals damage airways and lungs which can lead to emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

When is it time to kick the habit?

If you have made the decision to give up smoking, you can rest assured that the benefits will begin immediately. People with diabetes who give up have better control over their blood sugar levels and their health begins to return straight away.

Here are a few tips that the experts recommend:

  • Don’t do it alone.

    Your local doctor, medical service or health worker can all help you kick the habit. And your diabetes specialist can talk to you about medications such as patches that may help initially.

  • Set a realistic date to quit.

    This ensures that you have a deadline and goal to work towards.

  • Make sure you plan how to deal with triggers.

    These include socialising, stressful situations and breaks at work. You could create smoke free zones, avoid going out with friends who smoke, and limit your alcohol intake.

  • Make a plan to deal with cravings.

    You could go for a walk or go outside and play with the dog.

  • Make smoking inconvenient.

    You can do this by ensuring you don’t have cigarettes, ash trays, lighters or matches lying around. Spend time in places where you can’t smoke such as a movie theatre or a library. Hang out with friends who don’t smoke and ask for their support.

  • Plan some rewards when you hit each milestone.

    These could be each week, month, or six month period. This could be planning a holiday with the money you save from buying cigarettes, or a trip to the rugby league finals, or a 20/20 cricket game. Shout yourself to a new set of golf clubs and get out on the course.

  • Call the Quitline.

    If you’re struggling, simply talk to one of the qualified counsellors on 137 848.


Diabetes management requires self-awareness in knowing what makes your blood sugar rise and fall – and how to control these factors day-to-day. The key comes...
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