Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/12/2020
If you're a smoker and you're having trouble in the bedroom, it's important to know that there is a definitive link between smoking and erectile dysfunction (ED). Numerous studies have linked smoking and erectile dysfunction, largely due to the negative effects smoking can have on your cardiovascular health.
As we mentioned in our list of risk factors for erectile dysfunction, smoking can cause cause erectile dysfunction in younger men as well as older men, making it a major risk no matter your age.
While a cigarette or cigar every now and then is unlikely to cause erectile dysfunction, regular smoking could seriously affect your sexual performance. In this guide, we’ll look at the relationship between smoking and erectile dysfunction, as well as the best solutions if you’re a smoker affected by ED.
Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipe tobacco on a regular basis can damage your blood vessels, reducing arterial blood flow throughout your body. The key culprit is nicotine, which is a known vasoconstrictor (a type of chemical that reduces blood flow throughout the body).
This can be seriously damaging to your sexual performance, as erections are dependent on a mix of signaling from your brain and a reliable level of blood supply through the arteries of the penis.
When you feel sexually aroused, your brain sends a signal to nerves in the penis. This triggers the opening of arteries, increasing blood flow to the corpus cavernosum—the spongy tissue of the penis that fills and hardens to form an erection.
Reduced blood flow from smoking or other unhealthy habits can make it much more difficult to achieve an erection, leaving you with a weak erection or no physical response at all to sexual arousal.
Scientific research shows that the severity of erectile dysfunction in smokers is closely linked to their level of exposure to cigarette smoke. It also appears to show that quitting smoking could help reduce and even eliminate ED symptoms.
More research needed to be done on vaping, but the studies that are available do show a link between vaping and negative sexual health outcomes, including ED.
In one study from 2004, smokers and ex-smokers with erectile dysfunction were monitored for ongoing ED over the course of one year. The ex-smokers experienced a measurable reduction in erectile dysfunction symptoms, with an improvement in approximately 25% of study participants.
The smokers, on the other hand, saw no improvement—all that had erectile dysfunction at the beginning of the study also had it at the end. In fact, 6.8% of the smokers that took part in the study experienced a worsening of their erectile dysfunction symptoms over the study, compared to just 2.5% of non-smokers.
Other studies show similar results. A review of erectile dysfunction studies concluded that men who smoke have a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction than non-smokers, regardless of their age.
Add the fact that smoking is linked to sperm damage and other fertility issues into the equation and it’s clear that cigarettes aren’t really compatible with sexual and reproductive health.
If you have erectile dysfunction as a result of cigarette smoking, the best course of action—and we know this is going to sting a little bit—is to quit smoking. Study data shows that men who quit smoking can, and very often do, experience improvements in their sexual performance and a reduction in erectile dysfunction symptoms.
Because a large part of the erectile dysfunction caused by cigarettes is a result of the nicotine content, switching to a nicotine patch might not be entirely effective in preventing ED. A study from 2008 even links isolated nicotine (in the form of chewing gum) to erectile dysfunction.
For some smokers, gradually reducing the amount of cigarettes you smoke can be enough to produce a noticeable improvement in your erection quality and sexual performance.
In some cases, quitting smoking might not be enough to restore full erectile function. In this case, erectile dysfunction drugs such as sildenafil (generic Viagra), vardenafil and tadalafil can be effective treatments for helping you maintain an erection and improve your sexual experience.
However, because smoking is closely linked with heart disease, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions that can cause issues when combined with ED medication (like Viagra), it’s best to talk to your doctor before considering these drugs.
Finally, taking up healthy habits such as exercise (particularly aerobic exercise, which lowers blood pressure and is linked to improved sexual health) while quitting can help you stay more focused on your goals and avoid cravings, distractions and setbacks.