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Coach Corner

Discover The Link Between Smoking and Your Immune System

November 3, 2022
By Pivot
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Have you ever wondered if your cold or flu lasts longer than it would if you didn’t smoke? 

A strong functioning immune system is an important part of our overall health. Research has shown that people who use tobacco on average are sicker for longer periods. In addition, tobacco users, particularly those who smoke, are more likely to get ill and have a higher risk of severe illness. This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. A large study of people with COVID-19 found that people who smoke were 2.4 times more likely to get very sick, be admitted to an intensive care unit, need mechanical ventilation, and die. 

On average, people who use tobacco: 

  • Go to the doctor more often 
  • Are admitted to the hospital more often 
  • Miss 8 or more days of work per year

Most people know that smoking causes cancer and heart disease

But not everyone knows that smoking and nicotine also affect your immune system. Smoking is a major cause of many autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, COPD, lupus, Inflammatory bowel disease, and macular degeneration. 

Here are some of the reasons why your immune system is impacted

  • Nicotine and the chemicals that are inhaled while smoking or vaping suppress immune function, reduce antioxidants, and cause chronic inflammation.  
  • Tar, along with other toxins in tobacco, destroys antibodies, compromising the immune system. 
  • Carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in the blood, robbing the body’s organs of oxygen and leaving the body’s defense system compromised. 

Some people are shocked to find that they feel worse when they quit smoking

They typically experience a term most commonly called the “smokers flu”. Their cough worsens, and they may get a sore throat, headache, fatigue, and insomnia which can last up to a month and sometimes more. These are symptoms of the body detoxifying and healing after quitting smoking or vaping. The good news is that reducing by 50% or greater or by quitting smoking can improve your immune system and help it restore almost completely back to normal, compared to those who don’t smoke or vape.   

Many people even find that it is easier to quit when they are actually sick with a cold or flu

Why? Because they lose their desire to smoke or use tobacco products. Most doctors agree that the best way to strengthen your immune system is to:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet (low in processed sugar and high in plant-based foods)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep

Cold and flu season is around the corner, so don’t wait

This is the ideal time to quit using tobacco products. If you have downloaded the Pivot app, now could be the perfect time to protect your immune system. 

Authored by: 

Shannon Brown, Ph.D., NCTTP

Holly Dunn, BS, NBC-HWC, NCTTP

FAQ's About Smoking and Your Immune System

How does smoking affect one’s immune system?
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Smoking negatively impacts the immune system by suppressing its function, reducing antioxidants, causing chronic inflammation, destroying antibodies, and robbing the body of oxygen with carbon monoxide, making it more susceptible to illnesses.

What are some autoimmune diseases linked to smoking and nicotine?
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Smoking is a major contributor to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, COPD, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease and macular degeneration due to the effects of nicotine and toxic chemicals in tobacco.

Why do some people feel worse after quitting smoking?
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After quitting smoking, some individuals experience symptoms of the "smoker’s flu," including worsened cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, and insomnia. These are signs of the body detoxifying and healing, which can last up to a month or more. After these initial side effects go away, people who have quit smoking experience many positive effects, including feeling better, breathing easier, and experiencing less anxiety.

How can quitting smoking improve one’s immune system?
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Quitting smoking can significantly enhance one’s immune system. Reducing smoking by 50% or quitting altogether can help one’s immune system restore almost completely to normal, similar to non-smokers or non-vapers.

Is quitting smoking easier when someone has a cold or flu?
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Yes, many people find it easier to quit smoking when they're sick with a cold or flu because they lose the desire to smoke. It's an ideal time to quit and strengthen one’s immune system, as most doctors recommend.

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If you aren’t a part of the Pivot program quite yet, now is the perfect time to join.

Your immune system will thank you!

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