Photo: close up of cigarette balanced on hand with fingers poised to flick it away

Link between smoking and MS clearer than ever

Our new evidence review shows the link between smoking and MS is clearer than ever.

Smoking can make MS worse and speed up how fast people with MS become disabled.

Ahead of October’s annual ‘Stoptober’ campaign, our independent research review shows smoking can:

  • make MS more active
  • worsen and speed up the accumulation of disability
  • speed up the transition from relapsing to secondary progressive MS.

One study found that quitting smoking could delay the onset of secondary progressive MS by as much as eight years.

Many unaware of link between smoking and MS

Our research also found most people with MS don’t realise the connection with smoking – despite the fact that NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) advises healthcare professionals to tell people as soon as they’re diagnosed. In a recent qualitative study the overwhelming majority of people with MS (89%) did not know anything about the risks of smoking and MS.

Healthcare professionals can help

Dr Waqar Rashid, consultant neurologist at St George’s Hospital in London, said: “MS can be painful and unpredictable, and is often stressful to manage. Some people with MS believe smoking helps them manage stress, and healthcare professionals can be reluctant to take that ally away from someone who’s just been diagnosed.

But knowing that continuing to smoke might impact the disease and its progression could make a radical difference to some people. MS specialists must make sure these conversations are happening as soon as is appropriate, and make it a routine part of their MS consultations.”

Smoking and myelin

Research also shows an association between smoking and the number and/or size of brain lesions appearing in MRI scans. This increased damage could be the reason people with MS are less able to fight their condition, or experience worse symptoms earlier. Smoking can also impact how effective treatments are, meaning more relapses. 

Find your route to quit today

This Stoptober, we’re inviting everyone affected by MS who smokes to join thousands of others trying to quit. You won’t be alone. There’s support wherever you live in the UK.

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

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 helpline@mssociety.org.uk