Smoking and Diabetes

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.1 Most of the food a person eats is turned into glucose (a kind of sugar) for the body’s cells to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin that helps glucose get into the body’s cells.

When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin very well. When there isn’t enough insulin, or cells stop responding to insulin, too much sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.1

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin. Fewer people have type 1 diabetes, which is most often diagnosed in children, adolescents, or young adults.1
  • Type 2 diabetes develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults, but is increasingly being diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. About 90%-95% of people with diabetes have type 2. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active. 1
  • Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. While it usually goes away after pregnancy, gestational diabetes increases a woman’s risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. The condition can also increase a baby’s risk for health problems.1

For additional information about diabetes, including symptoms, risk factors, and testing, please visit CDC’s Diabetes Basics.

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How Is Smoking Related to Diabetes?

We now know that smoking is one cause of type 2 diabetes.2 In fact, people who smoke cigarettes are 30%–40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who don’t smoke.2,3 And people with diabetes who smoke are more likely than those who don’t smoke to have trouble with insulin dosing and with managing their condition.2,3 The more cigarettes you smoke, the higher your risk for type 2 diabetes.2,3

No matter what type of diabetes you have, smoking makes your diabetes harder to manage. If you have diabetes and you smoke, you are more likely to have serious health problems from diabetes, including:3

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Poor blood flow in the legs and feet that can lead to infections, ulcers, and possible amputation (removal of a body part by surgery, such as toes or feet)
  • Retinopathy (an eye disease that can cause blindness)
  • Peripheral neuropathy (damaged nerves to the arms and legs that cause numbness, pain, weakness, and poor coordination)

If you have diabetes and you smoke, quitting smoking will benefit your health right away. People with diabetes who quit are better able to manage their blood sugar levels.3

For free help to quit, call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit CDC.gov/tips.

Spanish-speakers can call 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) or visit CDC.gov/consejos.

Bill

Bill B. had diabetes. He quit smoking the day his leg was amputated.

“Having diabetes and being a smoker—my doctors always warned me about the bad things that could happen. Did I listen? No!”

Today I start my quit journey. Free resources provided by smokefree.gov

How Can Diabetes Be Prevented?

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases your chance of having type 2 diabetes.3
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.4
  • Stay active. Physical activity can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in adults who are at high risk for the condition.4

The CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) lifestyle change program has been proven to help people make the changes needed to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, improve their overall health, and build healthy habits for life. First, find out your risk by taking the 1-minute prediabetes risk test (available in Spanish and English). Then, learn more about the National DPP lifestyle change program and find a class near you (or online).

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How Is Diabetes Treated?

Diabetes treatment and management can include:5

  • A healthy diet and physical activity program
  • Weight loss (if overweight)
  • Medicines to manage blood sugar by helping the body use insulin better
  • Insulin taken by injection or by using an insulin pump
  • Diabetes self-management education and support to address problem-solving and coping skills needed to help manage diabetes and its complications
  • Medicines to manage cholesterol and blood pressure

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References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is Diabetes? [last reviewed 2020 June 11; accessed 2021 June 15].
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General pdf icon[PDF – 36 MB]external icon. 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, 2014 [accessed 2021 June 15].
  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 [accessed 2021 June 15].
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. [last updated 2020 June 11; accessed 2021 June 15].
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Living With Diabetes. [last updated 2021 May 21; accessed 2021 June 15].