Nobody needs an article to tell them that smoking is one of the worst things they can do to their health. Everyone knows about the links between smoking and cancer, heart disease, and a wide range of other serious conditions. However, many may not realize the connection between smoking and diabetes nor understand how the habit can have extra serious impacts on the health of those with diabetes.

In this article, we take a deep dive into the issues around smoking and diabetes, explaining why it is extra important that you don’t smoke if you are either at risk of diabetes or have already developed the condition. We look at the details of how smoking can make diabetes worse and explain how you can look for help if you are a diabetic smoker who is trying to quit. First, though, let’s start by looking at all the reasons why smoking can cause diabetes and also make the condition worse.

Smoking increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Smoking has been proven to be a significant cause of type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smokers are between 30% and 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to non-smokers. The CDC has also stated that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with every cigarette that you smoke.

But why exactly does smoking increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes? In fact, there are many different ways in which smoking impacts that risk. For example, nicotine both raises blood sugar levels and reduces the effectiveness of insulin (the hormone that reduces blood sugar levels in the body).

Smoking can also lead to inflammation and extra belly fat, both of which make it harder for the insulin in your body to perform its natural function. As inflammation damages cells and tissues, it can also make diabetes worse and increase the risks of heart disease, cancer, and kidney problems.

As a result of their habit, smokers also typically have higher levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, both of which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Finally, the fact that nicotine is a stimulant means that smokers tend to not sleep as well as non-smokers. That is a significant issue because a lack of good sleep has also been linked to developing type 2 diabetes.

Of course, smoking is not the only risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include a family history of the condition, stress, obesity, and not getting enough exercise.

Smoking makes it harder to manage diabetes

People with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes who smoke are more likely to face problems managing their condition. As explained above, smoking increases blood sugar and thus makes it harder to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The longer blood sugar levels are high, the greater the risk of a diabetic person developing more serious complications.

Smoking also increases insulin resistance, meaning that the body is less likely to react to insulin in the right way, which, in turn, further increases blood sugar levels. Smoking also makes it harder for diabetic people to get their insulin dosing right. Typically, a diabetic smoker who is taking insulin has to take more of it compared to another diabetic who doesn’t smoke.

So, not only does smoking increase blood sugar levels it also makes it harder for insulin, the body’s natural regulator of blood sugar, to do its job correctly. Taken together, these two things can be a disaster for the body.

Smoking increases the risk of diabetics developing other serious health problems

Diabetics are already at a high risk of developing a host of other potentially very serious, or even life-threatening, conditions. Smoking makes that risk even higher. Specific conditions that diabetics who smoke are more likely to develop include the following:

  • Heart disease: The combination of smoking and diabetes has been shown to increase the likelihood of suffering from a variety of conditions that can be grouped together as heart disease, including angina, heart failure, and heart attacks. Smoking also increases the risk of high cholesterol and coronary artery disease.
  • High blood pressure: Research has shown that diabetics who smoke are at a much greater risk of inflammation leading to blood vessel damage. This damage causes stiffness within the blood vessels which, in turn, raises blood pressure. High blood pressure further increases the risk of having a stroke or developing heart and kidney disease.
  • Poor blood flow: When damaged blood vessels become stiff, they restrict the flow of blood around the body, which leads to poor circulation. There are various health problems associated with poor circulation, including an increased risk of ulcers and infections in the legs and feet. In very serious cases, this can lead to limbs having to be amputated.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: The inflammation and high blood sugar levels associated with smoking do more than just affect blood vessels, they also attack and damage nerves, which can cause symptoms such as numbness, pain, tingling sensations, and poor coordination. Typically, these symptoms manifest in the extremities such as hands, legs, and feet, hence the term peripheral neuropathy. The pain associated with peripheral neuropathy (also called diabetic neuropathy) can require medication for pain management and limit people’s abilities to lead normal lives.
  • Stroke: Research has found that diabetic people who smoke are 3.5 times more likely to have a stroke compared to other diabetics who do not smoke. This is connected to the fact that diabetes and smoking are associated with oxidative stress, a type of cell damage that occurs when the chemicals that are contained in the smoke from cigarettes interact with oxygen in the body.
  • Eye problems, such as diabetic retinopathy: Because smoking increases blood sugar levels, it also makes it more likely for a diabetic person to develop eye problems related to diabetes. Those problems include cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, which can lead ultimately to permanent blindness.
  • Kidney failure: The increased blood sugar levels and damage to blood levels associated with smoking further increase the chances of diabetic people developing kidney damage. That is because the kidneys rely upon well-functioning blood vessels in order to be able to do their jobs. Specifically, diabetic people face the risk of developing a form of chronic problem called diabetic kidney disease.

Essentially, all of the main potential complications associated with type 2 diabetes are more likely to manifest in diabetic people who smoke compared to diabetics who do not smoke.

Seeking help to stop smoking

According to the CDC, quitting smoking has immediate health benefits for diabetics. For example, inflammation starts to reduce immediately after quitting. Within a few weeks, blood sugar levels will have improved. Within around eight weeks, insulin will also become more effective in doing its job of managing blood sugar. After one year of not smoking, the likelihood of developing heart disease decreases by 50%.

However, ironically, some people appear to have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes immediately after quitting smoking. This could be because of the weight gain that sometimes follows quitting smoking, which can lead to higher blood sugar levels.

Nevertheless, quitting smoking is still the right thing to do because, over time, your chances of developing type 2 diabetes will decrease until eventually, a decade or so after quitting, your chances will be the same as if you had never smoked at all.

Of course, quitting smoking is not necessarily an easy thing to do as tobacco is notoriously addictive. However, fortunately, there is much help at hand. If you are trying to quit smoking you can contact your doctor or local healthcare provider and look into a wide range of therapeutic and pharmaceutical options.

These options include nicotine replacement therapy, counseling, medication, and mindfulness training for smoking cessation. Searching online can also help you find the support that you need to stop smoking for good.


Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health. And, as this article has shown, the habit is extra damaging for people who are either diabetic or at risk of developing diabetes. Not only does smoking increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes but it also makes the condition harder to manage and increases the likelihood of developing a wide range of potentially very serious and even life-threatening complications.

The main takeaway from the article is simply this: whether you are diabetic are not, don’t start smoking, and if you have already started, seek whatever help you need to stop. There is plenty of support out there to enable you to stop smoking for the good of your health in both the short and the long term. Managing diabetes is complex enough without all the additional challenges and problems that can come from being a diabetic smoker.