How Does Smoking Cigarettes Contribute To Erectile Dysfunction?

A look at the science behind tobacco’s relationship with ED

Photo Credit: Irina Iriser/Unsplash

It wasn’t so long ago that the question “smoking or non-smoking” was commonly asked before sitting down at a restaurant or checking into a hotel for the night. Thankfully, in Canada, having to distinguish between time spent in a smoke filled room or not is a relic of the past. Municipal bi-laws and public health campaigns concerning the dangers of tobacco have helped to decrease the prevalence of smoking among Canadians from nearly 50% in 1965 to just under 16% in 2018. 

Despite this newfound awareness, there are still approximately 5 million daily or occasional tobacco smokers in Canada—and men are more likely to smoke than women. On top of being associated with higher risks of cancer, heart disease and overall mortality, research has shown that tobacco use is a key factor in men’s inability to get and maintain erections. 

This article takes a look at some of the science behind why kicking the nic could be an important part of your strategy to overcome erectile dysfunction

Why does cigarette smoking cause ED?

At its most basic level, achieving and maintaining an erection requires adequate blood flow to male genitalia. Chemicals found in cigarettes are associated with a lack of blood flow to the penis and can be detrimental to cardiovascular health more generally. If your heart is damaged in such a way that it can’t pump enough blood through arteries and veins to the penis, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve an erection. As such, tobacco use, along with antidepressants, are the most common non-age related causes of ED. 

Where is the evidence to support this?

Given that smoking and erectile dysfunction affects millions upon millions of people worldwide, there is no shortage of research on either topic. One study from 2005 surveyed over 1,300 men to examine the association between smoking and erectile dysfunction. It found that men who currently smoked, or who were regular smokers earlier in life, were more likely to experience ED than those who had never smoked. 

Health Canada cites five different studies that all point to tobacco having a negative impact on male sexual health. Two of the studies suggest that the likelihood of current smokers experiencing ED was twice as high as that of non-smokers.

What can I do about it? 

Photo credit: Ali Yahya

Quitting tobacco smoke sooner rather than later might be your best bet in combating tobacco-related ED. Though there is some evidence that links past smoking habits to current-day erectile dysfunction, other smaller studies have shown that some improvement can be made by men who quit smoking at any age. Of course, giving up cigarettes is firmly in the “easier said than done” category. Seeking help from provincial or national programs like BC’s Smoking Cessation Program is a good place to start. 

While you’re turning away from cigarettes, focus on making other healthy lifestyle choices like maintaining healthy body weight and having a healthy diet. Obesity has been estimated as the root cause for around 8 million cases of erectile dysfunction in the US each year. Watching your calories and eating healthy, whole foods, in combination with as little as 30 minutes of walking per day, could help improve sexual performance. 

A doctor or pharmacist might also decide that prescription medication can play a role in treating erectile dysfunction. Drugs like sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil have the potential to be effective treatments in achieving and maintaining erections. However, it’s important for your doctor to know about habits like smoking, drinking and drug use, as well as any medication currently being taken for other health conditions, before prescribing medication for erectile dysfunction.