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A crunched up cigarette representing the link between smoking and MS.

Smoking and MS

There's a range of things you can do to manage your MS. And if you smoke, making a plan to give up is one of them.

Will smoking make my MS worse?

The evidence behind the link between smoking and MS is clearer than ever: smoking can make your MS worse.

It can speed up how fast you become disabled. It can also mean more and bigger lesions and more relapses.

You won’t feel it with each cigarette, but the damage is happening inside your brain.

Official guidelines from NICE now tell neurologists that they should advise their patients not to smoke, and tell them that smoking will speed up how quickly their disability gets worse.

Read Jame's story about the link between smoking and MS in our community blog

Making a quit attempt together

We know how hard it can be to give up smoking. But wherever you live in the UK, there's support available to help you quit. Choose your route today.

If you live in England - find help on the Smokefree website

If you live in Scotland - find help on the NHS 

If you live in Wales - find help on the Help Me Quit website

If you live in Northern Ireland - find help on the Want 2 Stop website

What's the evidence?

Smoking and MS symptoms

Studies have shown people with MS who smoke may find their everyday symptoms get worse, including

  • confusion and memory loss
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness or loss of co-ordination
  • odd sensations like pins and needles.

The good news is, studies have also shown that quitting smoking might prevent that happening, even just one year after giving up.

Smoking and disability in MS

Studies show smoking can speed up how fast you become disabled. This includes your walking getting worse and a worsening in how other parts of your body move. 

People with MS who smoke can also see their MS develop from relapsing remitting MS to secondary progressive MS earlier than people who don’t smoke. In one study, people who quit smoking developed secondary progressive MS up to 8 years later than those who kept on smoking.  

Studies also show that quitting smoking can have other very real benefits. The good news is that studies clearly show that quitting leads to a slow down in how fast your disability gets worse. In fact, it slows it down to the rate we see in people who never smoked.

Smoking and disease modifying therapies (DMTs)

Smoking may also make it harder for your body to recover from relapses. DMTs can be very important in managing relapses and underlying damage caused by MS.

But a disease modifying therapy (DMT) won’t protect you against the harm from smoking. Smokers have more relapses than non-smokers who take the same DMTs.

Studies have shown that at least two DMTs are less effective in stopping relapses in people who smoke. These are the beta-interferon treatments (Avonex, Rebif, Plegridy, Betaferon and Extavia) and natizilumab (Tysabri).

People who smoke are more likely to develop MS

We all know that smoking can affect your general health in many ways. And there’s evidence to show smoking can make you up to 50% more likely to get MS compared to people who don’t smoke.

But it’s very unlikely that smoking is 100% responsible for your MS. No one knows for sure why people get MS. It's likely to be due to a combination of genes, something in your environment and some lifestyle factors.

Find out more about the causes of MS

Passive smoking and MS

There’s some evidence to show breathing in other people's cigarette smoke (passive smoking) might possibly increase your risk of getting MS. We need more studies on this.

In studies that found a link the risk from passive smoking seemed to go up the longer people were exposed to it. This could be important if you’re already at a higher risk of getting MS because your mother, father, brother or sister has MS.

Find out more about the causes of MS

Vaping, e-cigarettes and MS

Many people find vaping helps them quit smoking and it may be better for your general health than smoking tobacco.

Studies show nicotine in cigarettes doesn't to be seem responsible for the increased risk of MS. Some studies show vapour from e-cigarettes with no nicotine still caused damage to cells, including cells that protect the brain. Damage to these cells is something you see in MS.

More research needs to be done, but evidence so far suggests vaping isn’t a good alternative to smoking for people with MS.

Smoking cannabis and MS

Many people with MS say cannabis related products help them manage their symptoms. That’s why we’ve been campaigning for cannabis to be legalised for medicinal use.

But because of the risk from smoking, we recommend you don't smoke cannabis, especially if you mix it with tobacco. Cannabis can be taken in other ways (including by mouth in oils or sprays).

Find out more about cannabis and MS

Wider smoking risks

More generally, smokers are at risk of heart disease, cancers, strokes and lung conditions that cause serious breathing problems.

Find your route to quit

We know how hard it can be to give up smoking. But this October, you can join hundreds of thousands of people making an attempt to quit together.

There’s support to quit wherever you live in the UK, choose your route today.

If you live in England - sign up for Stoptober

If you live in Scotland - find help on the NHS 

If you live in Wales - find help on the Help Me Quit website

If you live in Northern Ireland - find help on the Want 2 Stop website

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