All you need to know about smoking and diabetes – Make Smoking History

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All you need to know about smoking and diabetes

Diabetes affects over 850,000 people in the UK and an estimated 537 million people globally. Whether you’re a smoker or are inhaling second-hand smoke from others, you’re at greater risk of developing diabetes and causing further complications to those managing diabetes.

Image of diabetic management tools and medications laid out

To mark World Diabetes Day 2022 (November 14th), here’s everything you need to know about how smoking increases the risk of diabetes - and some helpful resources to help you stop smoking.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high.

This means the body either can’t create enough insulin to process the sugar within the blood, or the body does not react to the insulin, resulting in high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia).

If your blood sugar gets to a very high level (or stays too high for too long) it can result in permanent damage to your nerves – including your sight – and it can lead to life-threatening conditions like biabetic ketoacidosis.

There are 2 main types of diabetes – Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.  Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 and it is estimated in the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2.

The symptoms of diabetes

It’s so important to recognise the main symptoms of diabetes – as it will allow you to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

These symptoms include:

  • unquenchable thirst
  • frequenting the toilet more than usual
  • feeling very tired and experiencing a lack of energy
  • weight loss
  • frequent episodes of thrush
  • cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • blurred vision

The facts on smoking and diabetes

Aside from being the largest preventable cause of death in adults across the UK, recent scientific studies have shown that people who smoke cigarettes are 30% to 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. It’s estimated that 7,827 deaths in the UK were caused by diabetes in 2020.

The British Heart Foundation reported that adults with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to develop heart and circulatory diseases and nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke than those without diabetes.

And according to another study part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, researchers at the University of Dundee stated that smoking and diabetes are the two leading risk factors for peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition resulting in the narrowing of the arteries which can lead to amputation. Researchers also stated that diabetics who smoked were 16 times more likely to develop PAD than non-smoking non-diabetics.

Need help quitting smoking?

The addictive substance in cigarettes is nicotine which causes a powerful addiction in the brain. However, nicotine on its own is relatively harmless. The illnesses and diseases caused by smoking come from the thousands of other toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke.

One way of the best ways to stop smoking is by using nicotine that doesn’t come from tobacco. It’s not possible to overdose on nicotine, but it’s possible that you may not use enough when trying to quit which could make you still want to smoke tobacco. That’s why it’s important to use the right nicotine level.

Nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches, sprays and gum, are safe sources of nicotine and are very effective in helping a smoker to stop if the level of nicotine is right. Vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco (e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco) and has helped many smokers stop smoking tobacco entirely. There are also prescribed medications that can break the addiction to nicotine in the brain.

So, there is more help than ever before to stop smoking. The best chance of stopping is with a combination of personalised support and a stop smoking aid – like nicotine replacement, e-cigarettes, or medication.

For help to stop smoking, speak to your Local Stop Smoking Service, GP or pharmacist, or call the NHS Stop Smoking helpline free on 0300 123 1044. Greater Manchester residents can also get six months’ free access to the Smoke Free app – usually worth £60 – by signing up online at (T&Cs apply).


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