Smoking and diabetes: adding fuel to the fire.

In the United States, approximately 30 million Americans are living with Type 2 diabetes (T2D). T2D develops when the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to insulin. Insulin is a key hormone that manages our ability to metabolize carbohydrates. Getting a diagnosis of T2D means making lifestyle changes in order to manage and take control of the disease. People with diabetes need to take daily steps to keep their blood sugar levels within safe ranges.

What many people don’t know is smoking causes type 2 diabetes. People who smoke are at a 30-40% increased risk of developing diabetes compared to non-smokers. And the more cigarettes smoked per day, the higher the risk of developing diabetes.1 For the approximately 88 million American adults who have prediabetes2, quitting smoking can decrease the chance of their prediabetes progressing to T2D.

Smoking makes diabetes harder to control. Smoking significantly increases the risk for serious complications from T2D.3 People who smoke have more trouble with insulin dosing and controlling their disease. They may need higher doses of insulin to normalize blood sugars. Uncontrolled blood sugars can cause a number of serious health
problems including:3

  • Heart and kidney disease
  • Poor blood circulation in the legs and feet, leading to infections, ulcers, and possible amputation
  • Retinopathy, eye disease that could cause blindness
  • Peripheral neuropathy, damaged nerves that cause numbness, pain, weakness, and poor coordination

Can quitting or reducing smoking help?

Quitting smoking can help prevent diabetes. For the more than 1 in 3 Americans with prediabetes—84% of which do not even know they have it—quitting smoking can decrease the chance of prediabetes progressing to T2D.1,2

Quitting smoking can improve diabetes control. Studies have shown that only eight weeks after quitting smoking, insulin starts to become more effective at lowering blood sugar.4

Reducing smoking can lower the risk of developing diabetes. The more cigarettes smoked per day, the higher the risk of developing diabetes.1 It has been reported that those who smoked at least 20 cigarettes per day had a 61% higher risk of developing T2D while smoking less than 20 cigarettes daily resulted in a 29% higher risk.4 The takeaway? Even reducing the amount smoked can dramatically lower the risk of developing T2D.

T2D and smoking are two giant American health crises, affecting millions of Americans and causing many well-documented health issues. Together, the health risks are multiplied. For someone with T2D who uses tobacco, reducing or quitting is one of the most urgent and effective things they can do to manage their condition.

References

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.
  2. “Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html June 11, 2020.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Report of the Surgeon General. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010
  4. Xie, Xi-tao et al. (2009). Impact of cigarette smoking in type 2 diabetes development. “About Prediabetes & Type 2 Diabetes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 April 2019, www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/about-prediabetes.html.
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Quitting Smoking in Lockdown
By Linda Bundick, MS, CHES, CHWC, NCTTP

Living in lockdown in response to COVID-19 has some obvious challenges. We have new stresses and uncertainties on top of the burdens of daily life. Our days just look different.