Lupus, Nicotine and Smoking

You probably know the statistics – that cigarettes and smoking are incredibly addictive and unhealthy, containing thousands of toxic chemicals, but did you know that it is even worse for those living with lupus? Read on to find out why!


Introduction to Lupus, Nicotine, and Smoking

Smoking tobacco is a well-known health risk for anyone. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 harmful chemicals, including over 70 known carcinogens. These chemicals include carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, formaldehyde, and ammonia. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers tobacco use one of the “biggest health threats the world has ever faced.” Smoking also presents additional risks for those with lupus and other autoimmune conditions.

One of the most significant risks for smokers with lupus is an increase in inflammation – and the subsequent damage that it can inflict on tissues and organs. Researchers have found that smokers with lupus have more dsDNA antibodies and proinflammatory cytokines than nonsmokers with lupus. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for developing other conditions, namely lung disease.

Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General found that smoking may add to the risk for rheumatoid arthritis (R.A.), though it is not yet known if smoking can cause lupus. Smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of tumor necrosis factor inhibitors used to treat autoimmune disease. Women who currently smoke and test positive for antinuclear antibodies also have an increased risk for SLE. Smoking is a risk factor for lupus that needs to be avoided!


How does quitting help?

The benefits of quitting occur right away. Sense of smell and taste improve almost immediately, and within just 20 minutes, the heart rate will decrease to a healthier rate! Lupus symptoms and disease activity may also improve. Quitting smoking can also have the effect of improving the effectiveness of lupus medications. For example, antimalarials, like hydroxychloroquine, become more effective after quitting smoking.

There are several effective smoking cessation programs available. A healthcare practitioner can help to determine which program is best based on individual needs. Some programs utilize drug and mental health therapy, while others rely solely on therapy. Having a solid support system in place is also imperative for success. Loved ones can offer support and encouragement on tough days.

There is a great resource, “How to Quit Smoking,” from The HelpGuide website. It can be found here:


In Conclusion

Smoking is risky business for those who have lupus or are genetically predisposed to autoimmune diseases. While it is undoubtedly challenging to quit, it is certainly worth it. The risk smoking poses to one’s health – and the benefits of quitting – are too great to ignore.



Barbhaiya, M., Tedeschi, S., Lu, B., Malspeis, S., Kreps, D., Sparks, ., Karlson, E., & Costenbader, K. (2017). Cigarette smoking and the risk of systemic lupus erythematosus, overall and by anti-double-stranded DNA antibody subtype, in the Nurses’ Health Study cohorts. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 77, 196-202. Doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2017-211675.

Benefits of quitting. (13, July 2020). American Lung Association.

Chasset, F., Frances, C., Barete, S., Amoura, Z., & Sarnaud, L. (2015). Influence of smoking on the efficacy of antimalarials in cutaneous lupus: a meta-analysis of the literature [abstract]. Journal of the Academy of Dermatology, 72(4), 634-639.

Hahn, J., Leatherwood, C., Malspeis, S., Liu, X., Lu, B., Roberts, A., Sparks, J., Karlson, E., Feldman, C., Munroe, M., James, J., Kubzansky, L., & Costenbader, K. (2020). Associations between smoking and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)-related cytokines and chemokines among U.S. female nurses [abstract]. Arthritis Care & Research.

Health consequences of smoking, Surgeon General fact sheet. (16, January 2014). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Nicotine: the addictive chemical in tobacco products. (28, August 2020). U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Robinson, L., & Smith, M. (2020, September). How to quit smoking. HelpGuide. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from

Tobacco. (27, May 2020). World Health Organization.

UNC Lineberger leads the way in e-cigarette research. (4, March 2020). UNC School of Medicine.


Author: Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz is a technical and creative writer who received her BA in Communications, Advocacy, and Relational Communications from Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She most recently worked for several years in the healthcare industry. A native of San Francisco, California, Liz now calls the beautiful Pacific Northwest home.

All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of and were created by Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus.

All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.

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