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Smoking and erectile dysfunction

Smoking and erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the persistent inability to achieve and maintain an erection sufficiently enough to permit satisfactory sexual performance. Smoking can cause erectile dysfunction in men of all ages, including young men. 

In this article we'll look at the link between smoking and ED, and other factors that might cause the condition. 

How common is erectile dysfunction in men?

Erectile dysfunction is particularly common in men over the age of 40, but it can occur in younger men also. It’s thought that as many as 50% of men aged 40 to 70 will have experienced ED at some point in their lives. And as many as 70% of men over 70 will have it. In younger men, it’s thought that between 20% and 40% of men under the age of 40 experience the condition.  

ED can be caused by a variety of different factors like smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes or drinking too much. But in that younger age bracket it’s thought that around 60% of cases will be down to psychological causes. So, this could be things like anxiety, stress, depression, or perhaps a relationship with porn. 

Smoking and erectile dysfunction: the statistics

We know that smoking is something that can make you more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, but how much more likely? There have been a variety of studies, but they tend to be quite old and/or based on small groups. But in 2005 there was a study that found that around 12% of men who’ve never smoked experienced ED, this went up to 17% in men who have smoked at some point, but this went up to 23% in men who smoked for over 29 ‘pack-years’ (number of years cumulatively they’ve smoked 20 cigarettes a day). 

Smoking and sexual health

Erectile dysfunction

Cigarettes release many thousands of chemicals when burnt . Over 250 of these chemicals are harmful.

Nicotine is likely to be the most important chemical linked to ED. It may interfere with the nitrous oxide (NO) pathway which is important for strong and healthy erections.

It also causes arteries to constrict and stiffen, thereby reducing the blood flow to the penis. Nicotine can also cause damage and/or inflammation of the artery walls, again reducing blood flow. A damaged blood vessel can encourage fatty deposits which will further narrow the blood vessels.

Smokeless tobacco or vaping products also contain nicotine, so whilst they might have fewer harmful chemical, the damaging effect of the nicotine is the same. Ideally you should avoid all types of smoking, tobacco products and exposure to second hand smoke to reduce your risk of erectile dysfunction.

Other causes of impotence (ED)

Other factors that can cause erectile dysfunction include:

  • Medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Obesity

Excessive alcohol consumption and use of recreational drugs and usage of illegal drugs can also increase the risk. But there is a good chance that quitting smoking will also reduce how often you experience erectile dysfunction. 

How long after quitting smoking does erectile dysfunction improve?

How long it takes for you to see the change can vary, based on the individual, age, the severity of your erectile dysfunction prior to quitting smoking, and other major health problems.

Getting advice and help for erectile dysfunction

For some men, erectile dysfunction can be an awkward subject to talk about in general, whether that’s with a partner or a doctor. However, the sooner you acknowledge the issue and speak to someone, the sooner you’ll be able to find a solution or treatment best for you. 

As well as this, erectile dysfunction can be a sign of other developing health issues, so it’s important that if you persistently struggle with getting and maintaining an erection that you go to your GP. They might suggest some tests to look for medical causes such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or hormone issues and discuss with you how to manage your erection difficulties best depending on the most likely cause. 

You can also use our online ED consultation, and our clinicians will suggest the right treatment for you, if needed. 

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Authors and editors

Reviewed and updated by: Our clinical team Date reviewed: 22-09-2023