Smoking & Erectile Dysfunction: All the Facts

Written by
The Manual Team
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
7th January 2022

In 30 seconds…

There is a large body of scientific data to link smoking with erectile dysfunction (ED).

The chemicals in cigarettes and tobacco can damage your blood vessels and restrict blood flow in your body, which in turn affects your ability to achieve and maintain an erection. Vaping liquid and other nicotine-containing products, while safer for health in other ways, can also contribute to ED.

If you quit smoking, you are more likely to have improved health outcomes – including better erections. The sooner you stop, the better.

Many of the health issues that can occur as a result of smoking are well-known, including lung cancer and heart problems.

But did you know that smoking can also contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED)? We’re not talking about an occasional cigarette here (although this also isn’t healthy), but regular smoking can have a severe impact on your ability to achieve and/or maintain a firm enough erection for sex.

In this article, we examine the evidence that connects ED to smoking and how giving up smoking can lead to better erections – and better sex.

Why Does Smoking Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Cigarettes can contain up to 41,000 chemicals, many that are dangerous for the health and some that contribute to ED – including arsenic, acetone, and carbon monoxide. These chemicals cause damage to your blood vessels and restrict the flow of blood around your body.

An erection occurs when, as a result of sexual arousal, your brain sends nerve signals to your penis that cause its spongy tissue (corpus cavernosum) to fill with blood. That’s how it becomes hard enough for you to have sex. But if blood flow to your penis is restricted – or if there is any damage to the nerves innervating the penile tissue – then you may struggle to get a firm erection (or any erection at all).

Smoking also causes serious health problems such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes – all of which can contribute to ED in their own right.

Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction: The Evidence

Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the connection between smoking and ED. For example one study from the American Journal of Epidemiology surveyed 7,684 Chinese men and found that the men who smoked were significantly more likely to experience ED than those who had never smoked. Based on their findings, the researchers estimated that nearly a quarter of ED cases among Chinese men are caused by smoking.

Further research published in the journal Andrologia found that heavy smoking increases your risk of severe ED. It also makes it more difficult to start having healthy erections again once you stop smoking.

If you are a younger man, between 18 and 44 years old, you are much more likely to suffer from ED if you are a smoker. Researchers from the University of Florence found that “heavy smoking is an important risk factor” for ED in younger men. So if you are young and otherwise healthy there’s a reasonable chance that smoking is responsible for your ED.

Finally, smoking can have a negative impact on other aspects of your sexual health, including your fertility. Research from BJU International has shown that smoking can cause sperm damage. That might be something to take into account if you’re hoping to have a family soon.

Will my Erections Improve Once I Stop Smoking?

The evidence suggests that once you stop smoking you are more likely to beat ED and enjoy satisfying erections again.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong studied 143 men with ED who gave up smoking and found that around 50% reported improvements in their erections after 6 months. Moreover, a study from BJU International compared a group of ex-smokers with a group of current smokers, over the course of a year, and found that erections improved in 25% of the ex-smokers but none of the current smokers.

However, how far your ED improves after you quit does also depend on other factors, such as your age, how heavily you smoked, how long you smoked for, how severe your ED is, and whether you have any other serious health problems.

If you find you need a little extra help in getting your erections back, try an ED medication such as Sildenafil (a generic unbranded version of Viagra) or Tadalafil/Cialis. You just need to make sure you tell your prescriber about any other health issues you have or medications you’re taking, to make sure the treatment is safe for you. Manual’s health questionnaire and online prescription is designed with the utmost safety in mind.

Vaping: A Healthier Alternative?

Vaping has been broadly accepted as a healthier alternative to smoking, as the body is exposed to many fewer harmful chemicals. For example, you’re not inhaling the tar found in cigarettes, which can cause lung cancer. That said, the jury is still out on the long-term effects of vaping.

But will switching to vaping help your ED?

The problem is that vaping products still contain the addictive ingredient nicotine. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, which means that it narrows your blood vessels and makes it harder for blood to circulate in your body. As a result, it has a similarly negative effect on your erections to the other chemicals in cigarettes.

Nicotine-containing products designed to help people give up smoking can also be a problem. For example, a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine looked at the impact of nicotine gum on erections in men who had never smoked and found that “nicotine intake significantly impairs erectile function”.

So if you’re aiming to give up smoking to improve your erections, you might want to consider ways to quit that don’t rely on nicotine. These may include taking up exercise or a new activity, attending a support group, or finding ways to keep your hands and mouth busy to not miss the feel of the cigarette.

Although giving up can be challenging, the rewards are worth the effort – particularly in the bedroom. Not only should your erections improve but with reduced breathlessness and increased energy, you and your partner are likely to find sex a more satisfying experience.

How to Stop Smoking: Seeking Help

For information on how to stop smoking, look for your Local Stop Smoking Services. There is a lot of help out there, including trained advisors giving one-to-one and group sessions. Find what works for you – whether it’s a community of people in a similar situation, or individual support for your goal of quitting.

Key Takeaways…

No ifs or buts – smoking is not good news for your erections. Quitting smoking early on in your life will give you the best chance of overcoming ED to enjoy firm erections and more fulfilling sex.

However, if you’ve been smoking for a while, don’t let that deter you. Kicking the habit later on can still improve your overall health and wellbeing – and better health generally means better erections too.

Erections aren’t always easy for millions of men in the UK. It’s no big deal. Choose from highly effective, clinically proven solutions.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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