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Find out about the health harms that smoking has on your brain.

Did you know that smoking increases your risk of developing dementia by up to 50%?  

While lung cancer, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other well-known diseases are more commonly known to be caused by tobacco, many people are unaware of the link between smoking and dementia.  

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, dementia is the most feared health condition for people over the age of 55 – more than any other life-threatening disease including cancer and diabetes. 

Yet YouGov data commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed only 17% of Londoners who smoke know that smoking increases the risk of dementia, compared to 77% who know that smoking causes lung diseases or cancers. 

Read on to find out more on the health harms that smoking has on your brain, the increased risk of developing dementia if you smoke and how you can access free support to quit smoking. 

Many people are not aware that smoking affects brain health. Smoking is one of the major risk factors for developing cognitive impairment and dementia.

Smoking increases your risk of developing dementia by up to 50%.

Smoking increases your chances of developing dementia  

Smoking significantly increases your risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, as it harms the vascular system (heart and blood vessels) and the brain. 

A recent study published by Alzheimer’s Research UK found that current smokers were 30% likelier to develop dementia and 40% more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease (most common form of dementia) compared to individuals who have never smoked 

Studies also suggest that quitting smoking reduces this risk substantially, and smoking has been identified as one of twelve risk factors that if eliminated entirely, could collectively prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases. 


How does smoking increase the risk of dementia?  

Smoking increases the risk of dementia in several ways. 

Tobacco has a negative effect on your vascular system. It increases plaque levels in your blood vessels – making it harder for blood to flow around your body. 

The chemicals found in cigarettes also cause blood to thicken. This can lead to blood clots forming within veins and arteries, which increases your risk of suffering from a stroke, coronary heart disease and other circulatory diseases. 

Smoking also increases your likelihood of developing atherosclerosis. This health condition affects the blood vessels around the heart and brain, starving the brain cells of oxygen, and nutrients, which can cause lasting damage to your brain health.  

Inhaling other harmful substances found in cigarettes can lead to cell stress and inflammation – this can cause brain cells to degenerate and die at a faster rate compared to the normal ageing process. 

You can reduce your risk of developing dementia by quitting smoking.

You are 3x more likely to successfully stop smoking when you combine Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), or a vape with behavioural support (counselling and advice) offered by a stop smoking service. 


Can second-hand smoke increase my chances of developing dementia?

Yes. Research has concluded that exposure to second-hand smoke leads to an increased risk of dementia. 

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke had a 44% higher risk of developing dementia compared to those with no exposure. 

Another study in the Lancet Neurology reported that long-term exposure to second-hand smoke nearly doubled the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Does smoking increase dementia?

Watch this video with Dr Chi Udeh-Momoh, Translational Neuroscientist, Imperial College London for all you need to know about smoking and dementia.

How can I reduce my risk of developing dementia?

Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. Each year, 2 in 3 UK smokers will die from smoking-related diseases. 

Within 20 minutes of quitting, your body will begin to heal itself and you will soon feel an improvement in your physical health.  

By quitting smoking, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia. 


How have other people quit smoking? 

People have used Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), like gums or patches, as well as prescribed medication for many years to help them stop smoking.  

A cigarette is made up of tar which contains cancer causing chemicals and nicotine, which does not cause cancer but is highly addictive. When you stop smoking your body craves nicotine so NRT helps you deal with cravings and nicotine withdrawal symptoms. 

Nicotine replacement products such as gums or patches, as well as vapes, are great tools that can help you quit smoking.  

You are 3x more likely to successfully stop smoking when you combine NRT or a vape with behavioural support (counselling and advice) offered by a stop smoking service. 

If you are thinking of swapping smoking for a vape, watch this video as Debbie Robson – Senior Lecturer in Tobacco Harm Reduction at King’s College London – explains the differences between vaping and smoking tobacco. 

You can also take inspiration from ex-smokers who have successfully quit smoking. 

Chris from Hackney quit for his partner with support from his family. 

Vaping and smoking are not the same

While cigarettes contain tar and deadly toxins, vapes only produce vapour with nicotine and flavourings

Access free support to quit with Stop Smoking London 

There is no safe amount of smoking – the best way to protect your health is to quit completely.  

Combining stop smoking aids, such as NRT, vapes or prescribed medications, with expert support significantly increases your chances of successfully quitting smoking. 

Quitting smoking can be challenging, but we are here to help you. We have helped thousands of people quit smoking for good and have a range of helpful services and resources that are free to use.  

Find your nearest local stop smoking service. 

Sign up for the free text messaging service here.  

Call the free Stop Smoking London Helpline. 

Access helpful guides, read success stories from ex-smokers and use  free resources.