Can Quitting Smoking Raise Your Diabetes Risk?

Smokers are at an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes after they give up their cigarettes, according to a study published in the "Annals of Internal Medicine."

According to the researchers, the risk is due to the après-quitting weight gain that is all too  common.  But experts maintain that all the benefits of kicking the habit, such as reducing your risk of lung cancer and heart disease, are worth those extra pounds, which can be eliminated with diet and exercise.

Researchers looked at 11,000 middle-aged people who did not have diabetes over a nine year period, according to an article on CNN. Some 45 percent of them were smokers. When compared to the study participants who had never smoked, those who gave up cigarettes during the study had a 73 percent increased risk of getting Type 2 diabetes within three years after quitting. In the years right after the smokers quit, the increased risk was even more dramatic.

"Based on our analysis, (it's) probably 80 percent or even 90 percent," study lead author Hsin-Chieh (Jessica) Yeh, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology, told CNN.

The higher diabetes risk is probably due to the fact that many people gain weight when they give up cigarettes. Gaining weight is not only a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, but it's also one of the most dreaded side effects of quitting smoking.

"Smoking is a heavily oral habit, and smokers are used to manually placing something in their mouths when they smoke," says Svetlana Kogan, MD, medical director of Doctors at Trump Place in New York City. "When we quit smoking, we have to put in something else, which of course is food." She says 99 percent of her patients gain weight, but only temporarily.

Watch the calories you're consuming in liquid form, advises Dr. Rita Louard, MD, director of the clinical diabetes program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

"You may not even recognize how many calories are in all the juice and soda," she says. "Cut these out and you will save a lot of calories." Interestingly, in the Johns Hopkins study, smokers who kept up their habit were only 31 percent more likely than non-smokers to have gotten diabetes at the three-year mark.

The good news is that higher risk rate for getting diabetes doesn't hold true over time. After 12 cigarette-free years, ex-smokers were not any likelier to develop diabetes than people who had never smoked.

Here's how you minimize weight gain when you give up smoking:

  • Eat low-cal snacks that keep your mouth busy, Kogan recommends. Carry Zip-loc bags with carrots and celery, maybe with a tablespoon of peanut butter for dipping. And b sure to eat something every two or two and one half hours so you won't get ravenous, she says.

  • Keep your hands busy with something else now that they're not busy holding cigarettes, she says. Consider taking up some sort of craftmaking or another hobby. "If  you can get some different source of instant gratification, this can help you not be so focused on what you gave up," Kogan says.

  • Redirect the energy you spent on cigarettes on exercise, Kogan advises. Start taking long walks or participate in some other form of physical activity that you enjoy. Even half an hour of brisk exercise can reduce the urge to smoke.

  • That said, don't sign on to do some form of exercise you don't like, Louard says. "The key is that it has to be something you like," she says. "Maybe it's a walk in the neighborhood, or just going up and down stairs a lot.. But it's important: just 150 minutes of exercise a week is associated with decreasing your risk of developing diabetes."


Hsin-Chieh, Yen and others, "Smoking, Smoking Cessation, and Risk for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Cohort Study" Annals of Internal Medicine, January 2010, 152:10-17