Smoking and the Management of Chronic Health Conditions

Smoking damages nearly every organ in the body. But if you have other health issues, smoking can produce an even greater effect. Learn how smoking impacts people with the following conditions. 

Chronic Pain  

People with chronic pain smoke twice as much as the rest of the population, and often report that they smoke specifically to cope with their pain symptoms. Many people reach for a cigarette when they feel the pain coming on, believing it will help them. 

There are chemicals in cigarettes that may briefly ease your pain, but when you’re done smoking, the pain will still be there, and you will begin to feel withdrawal from nicotine, which can make the pain worse. Smoking can also have negative effects on the medications you take for pain or other health conditions. 

For those with common conditions such as back pain, fibromyalgia, tooth and gum pain, migraines, or rheumatoid arthritis, quitting smoking can reduce pain symptoms. And people with cancer who quit smoking feel less pain associated with their cancer symptoms and treatments.  

Learn more about chronic pain and tobacco use and sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA healthcare provider.  

Depression and Anxiety 

People living with depression or anxiety are two times more likely to smoke cigarettes than people without these health conditions. Many people believe smoking reduces their stress, but that’s not true. Any short-term relief you get from smoking is quickly replaced by the stress of nicotine withdrawal. 

Smoking can make your feelings of depression and anxiety worse and can interfere with the medications you use to treat those conditions. You may be more likely to think about or attempt suicide. 

Studies show that quitting smoking not only reduces stress but also relieves symptoms of depression. Quitting can improve your mood and quality of life. It can also lower your risk of dying from conditions such as tobacco-related cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.  

Learn more about depression, anxiety, and tobacco use and sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA healthcare provider.  

If you’re in distress or having suicidal thoughts, call VA Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text to 838255, or chat online

Type 2 Diabetes 

Research shows that cigarette smoking causes type 2 diabetes. In fact, smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers.  

Nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco smoke can cause your body not to respond to insulin. If you smoke and have diabetes, you may need higher doses of insulin to maintain proper blood sugar, which can have dangerous side effects. Smoking increases the risk of diabetes-related health issues such as:  

  • Kidney disease 
  • Erectile problems in men 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Circulatory problems that can lead to pain, numbness, or weakness in legs or feet 
  • Sores on your legs or feet that will not heal, which may lead to amputation 

Learn more about Type 2 Diabetes and tobacco use and sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA primary or mental health care provider.  

Heart Disease 

Heart disease, including high blood pressure, is the most common chronic disease among Americans and the leading cause of death. Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels, and even smoking just a few cigarettes per day can damage cardiovascular health.  

Chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke cause the cells that line blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed. This can narrow the blood vessels and can lead to many cardiovascular conditions that can cause a heart attack or stroke. 

Damage to the heart and blood vessels is repaired quickly for most smokers who stop smoking, even for long-time smokers. In one year, your risk of heart attack drops dramatically. In five years, most smokers who have quit cut their risk of stroke to nearly that of a nonsmoker. 

Learn more about heart disease and tobacco use and sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA healthcare provider.  

HIV 

Research shows that people with HIV are two to three times more likely to be smokers than people who don’t have HIV. Smoking is tough on the body, and that’s especially true for people with HIV. They are more likely to get sick more frequently. 

Smokers who have HIV face the same tobacco-related health risks as other smokers – such as cancer, cardiac disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – often called COPD.  

Plus, people with HIV who smoke have an increased risk of respiratory tract infections, including acute bronchitis, bacterial pneumonia, and tuberculosis. The risk of pneumocystis pneumonia – a serious infection more common among people with HIV – is increased by smoking. 

Smoking can affect the metabolism and effectiveness of some medications that are used to treat HIV. This may cause a faster progression from HIV to AIDS. Overall, people with HIV who smoke have a shorter life expectancy than people with HIV who don’t smoke.  

Learn more about HIV and tobacco use and sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA healthcare provider.  

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

If you are a Veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and you smoke, you are not alone. Veterans with PTSD are more likely to smoke than Veterans without PTSD.  

Many people with PTSD report that they smoke to manage their mood and to deal with symptoms of stress and anxiety. While smoking may feel like it provides some relief, in the long run it can make your PTSD and stress symptoms worse.   

Smoking can also make it harder to fall asleep and worsen the quality of your sleep, and it may cause problems with specific medications.  

If you quit smoking, you may experience less anxiety and some relief from your PTSD symptoms, especially the longer you stay quit. It will improve your mood and quality of life and certain medications for depression or anxiety will be more effective.  

Learn more about PTSD and tobacco use and sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA healthcare provider.  

If you’re in distress or having suicidal thoughts, call VA Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text to 838255, or chat online

Substance Use Disorders 

An adult with a substance use disorder (SUD) is three to four times more likely to smoke than someone who doesn’t have a SUD. About 70% to 80% of people with SUD are smokers. And 50% of deaths among people with an alcohol use disorder who smoke are due to tobacco-related diseases. If you have a SUD, quitting smoking decreases your chances for contracting throat, mouth, and lung cancers.  

Many people in SUD treatment want to quit smoking and have a good chance at doing so, especially with the support of counseling and medication. Since smoking can sometimes trigger the desire to use another substance, quitting smoking may help you in your long-term recovery from substance use. If you have depression, and are in treatment for alcohol use, quitting smoking can make it easier for you to drink less or quit drinking.  

Learn more about SUD and tobacco use and sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA healthcare provider.