Hand holding cigarette between fingers mimicking erectile dysfunction to symbolize impotence and smoking

According to the World Health Organization, there are over one billion smokers in the world and there are far more men smoking than there are women. 40% of the male population of the entire world lights up a cigarette on a daily basis compared to only 9% of women. 1 in 10 adults will die from tobacco related illnesses each year.

Thousands of years ago, tobacco was discovered in the Americas and was rapidly cultivated by the people of the land. Back in those days, tobacco was used for its supposed medicinal qualities.  However, even in the early days, there were many people who thought it did more harm than good.

People start smoking for a variety of reasons. Friends pressuring a young person to be “cool”, a teenager seeking acceptance from peers, rebellion against authority figures, being influenced by parents and family members smoking, the belief that smoking is helping to alleviate some other problem, to relieve stress… These are just a few of the reasons people pick up their first cigarette and kickstart a lifelong addiction.

Smoking cigarettes can lead to a plethora of serious health complications such as lung disease, heart disease and cancer. Chemicals in the cigarettes can lead to a higher chance of developing diabetes and they also affect important hormones like the thyroid hormone and sex hormones. Smoking is even connected to physical sexual problems, like erectile dysfunction. [1]

What Makes People Smoke

It can be hard to understand why anyone would smoke given how much we know about the wide-ranging damage smoking can cause.

In a tobacco plant, there are thousands of chemicals that affect the human body. Today, science has narrowed down the one chemical that affects smokers more than any other – nicotine.

A cigarette has about 10mg of nicotine in it and, when you smoke a cigarette, your body will absorb about 1 to 2mg of nicotine. [2]

Nicotine is the chemical in the tobacco and the cigarette that causes people to become addicted to smoking. Why does this happen, though?

When you inhale the smoke from a cigarette, it travels to the brain via the bloodstream. When the smoke gets to the brain, the brain starts to produce adrenaline and dopamine.

The adrenaline gets the heart rate and blood pressure up and it constricts blood vessels while the dopamine elicits a pleasurable feeling throughout the body. [3] Nicotine only stays in the body for about 2 hours.

Because nicotine fuels dopamine production when smoke is inhaled, your body thinks it is helping you feel calmer and relaxed. Many people even believe that cigarettes help to *reduce the amount of pain they feel. A lot of people who suffer from chronic pain turn to smoking to help them deal with their pain. [4]

Every time your brain gets more nicotine when you smoke and the “feel-good” chemicals are released, your body sees this pleasure as a reward for smoking. Because of this, it wants to keep doing whatever is making it feel so good and, before you know it, you are fully addicted to cigarettes.

What Does This Have To Do With Erectile Dysfunction?

A man’s ability to achieve and keep an erection is impacted by many things. There are psychological issues like depression or anxiety that can cause impotence. There are physical problems that can lead to erectile dysfunction as well, like being overweight. Beyond this, there are lifestyle choices men make that can lead to problems with their sexual function. Smoking is one of these lifestyle choices.

To achieve an erection, a man first has to be aroused by some external source. His brain then floods his body with sex hormones which will send blood rushing to his sexual organ. Once the blood arrives, it fills the arteries and spongy tissue of the penis causing it to swell and harden. This is what we know as an erection.

If anything causes problems with the blood flow to the sexual organ, an erection cannot be achieved or retained long enough to engage in sexual intercourse.

As discussed earlier, smoking can lead to problems with blood flow. When the nicotine reaches the brain, it excites the nervous system and the nervous system responds by restricting blood flow. This restricted blood flow means that blood cannot get to the genitals and a man cannot get an erection.

The use of nicotine significantly *reduces erectile functioning in otherwise healthy men. [5] The more a man smokes, the more likely he is to develop erectile dysfunction. [6] In addition, if a man smokes for a long period of time, the prevalence of impotence will *increase and the more difficult it will be to reverse the effects of this lifestyle choice.

Is There Anything I Can Do?

Nicotine is very addictive, and it can be hard to leave it behind but it is crucial for your overall health and well-being to cast it aside. The best thing you can do is to kick the smoking habit for good. It will be uncomfortable and difficult but it will be very worthwhile on many levels, not least of which will be an *improvement in the bedroom.


While erectile dysfunction is treatable with medication, most people would rather treat the problem without a trip to the doctor.

Luckily, much of the time erectile dysfunction can be alleviated by making some smart choices and simply changing your lifestyle.

If you are a smoker and you are living with erectile dysfunction, stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about nicotine patches and other helpful tools to assist you in quitting this habit if you don’t fancy going cold turkey.

If you’re a smoker and not currently suffering from erectile dysfunction, you should still quit. Smoking can cause irreparable harm to you and it will eventually lead to problems with your sexual functioning as well.


[1] Kovac JR, Labbate C, Ramasamy R, Tang D, Lipshultz LI (2015) Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Erectile Dysfunction. Andrologia 47(10): 1087-1092

[2] Schwartz-Bloom RD, Gross de Nunez G (1974) The Smoking Habit and its Classification. The Practitioner 212(1974): 793

[3] Jiloha RC (2010) Biological Basis of Tobacco Addiction: Implications for Smoking-Cessation Treatment. Indian J Psychiatry 52(4): 301-307

[4] Ditre JW, Brandon TH, Zale EL, Meagher MM (2011) Pain, Nicotine and Smoking: Research Findings and Mechanistic Considerations. Phsychol Bull 137(6): 1065-93

[5] Harte C, Meston C (2008) Acute Effects of Nicotine on Physiological and Subjective Sexual Arousal in Nonsmoking Men: A Randomized, Double Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Sex Med 5(1): 100-121

[6] Millet C, Wen LM, Rissel C, Smith A, Richters J, Grulich A, deVisser R (2006) Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction: Findings from a Representative Sample of Australian Men. Ton Control 15(2): 136-139

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