Smoking and Type 2 Diabetes


We all know, or at least have heard or read, about how harmful smoking can be. You can even see the warnings reflected graphically in the packets of cigarettes. Some of the harmful effects of smoking are lung, mouth, throat and bladder cancer. In addition to that, smoking can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the tissues which can cause heart attacks and cerebral and peripheral vascular events. For those of us living with type 2 diabetes, smoking also increases the risk of developing serious complications such as:

  • Heart and kidney diseases: People with diabetes who smoke are three times more likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with diabetes who don’t smoke.
  • Poor circulation of the lower and upper limbs can cause infections, sores and increased risk of amputations due to the involvement in the blood vessels preventing adequate blood circulation.
  • Retinopathy
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • In pregnant women, there’s an increased risk of harm to the baby and an increased risk of hypertension before or at the time of delivery.

Smoking increases insulin resistance, therefore, quitting smoking has benefits that are reflected in better management of your blood glucose. 

How to Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is hard, but it’s not impossible. Here are some ways to begin the path to stop smoking and adjust your mindset for recovery.

  • Recognize that smoking is an addiction and that you have to treat it as such. Although it may be possible for some people to decide to quit smoking overnight, this doesn’t always work. Smoking can be tied to various stressors in our lives and it can be associated with a form of relaxation. The idea is to identify what triggers your need to smoke. Once you identify those triggers, replace smoking with other healthy activities such as exercise, drinking, water and other hobbies. 
  • Decreasing the number of cigarettes. Instead of going cold turkey, start slow. Decrease the number of cigarettes you smoke a day gradually and work towards a goal to stop smoking. 
  • Seek support. Seek insight from your doctor on how you can reform your smoking habit. Find support groups in your area, as well as peer groups online. Tell your family and friends your intentions to stop smoking and ask them to support you. Having support lessens the feelings of loneliness and can help hold you accountable. 
  • Know the symptoms of withdrawal. Smoking is an addiction. As you break your addiction, prepare to feel anxiety, tension, irritability and have difficulty concentrating. You may also experience sleep disturbances, headaches and increased appetite. By knowing these symptoms beforehand, you can better prepare on how to deal with it, which may also include contacting your support group. 
  • Create a list. Make a list of the reasons why you want to quit this habit and include the benefits that this will bring you, both in the short and long term.
  • Take it one day at a time. Remain in the moment and take each day one at a time. Celebrate your wins each day and don’t get too down on the days you may slip. Use your progress as motivation.
  • Workout. Exercises release substances that give a sensation of well-being and this will replace what you thought the cigarettes provided for you.

In addition to all of the above, if you know someone who does not live with diabetes but smokes, inform them smoking increases their chances of developing diabetes. That’s right, people who smoke are between 30 and 40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who don’t smoke. And that is not all, the more cigarettes they smoke, the greater the risk of developing this type of diabetes. This is because smoking increases blood glucose levels and in addition, it increases insulin resistance. Therefore, if there is a predisposition to diabetes smoking would accelerate this process.

WRITTEN BY Eugenia Araiza, CDE Nutritionist, POSTED 02/21/20, UPDATED 10/10/22

Eugenia is a nutritionist and diabetes educator. She has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1995. In 2019, she started Healthy Diabetes, a project that includes educational resources to support and empower people living with diabetes. She is the author of the book Soy Diferente y me Gusta (I am Different and I Like It), which preaches about acceptance when living with diabetes. She recently co-authored a book called Había una vez una Diabetes (Once Upon a Time There was Diabetes) which addresses diabetes burnout in diabetes from a professional perspective and with a personal and unique twist. Eugenia is co-founder of Diabetes and Co, an online educational platform for the different types of diabetes. She is currently a project manager at Beyond Type 1.