5 myths about smoking and MS

Fri 15 October 2021

Babs Guthrie

The evidence 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. The good news is that, if you quit smoking, you slow down how fast your disability gets worse. It slows to the rate we see in people who don't smoke.

We know giving up smoking can be really hard whether you have MS or not. And there’s a lot of misinformation out there. So we’ve reviewed the evidence to bust the top 5 myths about smoking and MS.

1. Smoking is good for stress

Research has found people who smoke actually have higher stress levels than those who don’t.

It also suggests the relaxing effect of smoking you feel is actually the reversal of the tension and irritability that develops between cigarettes. So smoking a cigarette is just taking you back to feeling normal.

The good news is that studies found that stopping smoking can actually reduce feelings of anxiety and depression in the long run.

Find out more about managing stress and anxiety

2. Smoking shisha or vaping e-cigarettes is fine

There's a growing body of evidence that vaping causes less harm to your overall health compared to smoking. But we're still unsure of its effects on MS. Vaping itself may be harmful for your MS, but more research is needed

However there’s clear evidence smoking shisha is as bad for your MS as smoking cigarettes.

3. My DMT shields me from the effects of smoking

Disease modifying therapies (DMTs) can reduce relapses and slow down disease progression. But research shows smoking actually reduces effectiveness for at least some of them. So not only will taking a DMT not protect you from the effects of smoking, smoking itself could make the DMT work less well.

The two DMTs that were tested with smoking were beta-interferons (Rebif, Extavia, Plegridy, Avonex, and Betaferon) and natalizumab (Tysabri). People taking them who smoked were found to have more relapses compared to people taking them who didn’t smoke.

4. Smoking cannabis to relieve my symptoms is okay right?

We’ve been campaigning over the last year for the government to legalise cannabis for medicinal use because we know it can help with MS symptoms. It’s incredible to see how far we’ve come since then.

There is evidence that smoking cannabis, especially when mixed with tobacco, causes harm to people with MS. And we don’t currently know if vaping cannabis is any better. Cannabis can be taken in other ways (like by mouth in oils or sprays).

Find out more about cannabis and MS

5. Isn’t it the nicotine that’s bad for you?

There are many theories about why smoking’s bad for MS, but no hard evidence to support them. One thing we do know: nicotine isn’t to blame.

People who use nicotine without smoking it (like snuff users) have no higher risk of getting MS or of their MS getting worse.

Your routes to quit

If you want to make a quit attempt you won’t be alone. There’s support wherever you live in the UK.

If you live in England - find NHS support

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

If you're worried about this information or have questions about smoking and MS, please call our free MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000 or email [email protected]