Smoking can produce multiple negative effects on the stomach and other organs of the digestive tract, leading to pain and discomfort in the abdomen.

The harm from smoking may contribute to conditions such as ulcers and Crohn’s disease. It can also increase the risk of cancer in several digestive tract organs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoke harms almost all organs in the body, reducing the health of smokers overall.

Quitting smoking can help reduce the symptoms of some conditions or prevent them from worsening. However, it does not always reverse the condition in which smoking has played a role.

This article discusses how smoking and vaping may affect the stomach and other parts of the digestive tract. It also examines the benefits of quitting smoking on the digestive tract, ways to quit, and when to contact a doctor.

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Smoking can harm the digestive system, affecting its ability to function correctly while converting food into nutrients.

A 2016 study found a link between former and current smoking and abdominal pain. This pain may stem from the effects of smoking on the stomach organ.

Alternatively, the pain may be due to the effects of smoking on other digestive organs in the intestinal tract, which lies in the abdomen.

Read more about the effects of smoking on the body here.

How smoking affects the stomach

Research from 2018 notes that smoking for more than 2 years can increase the secretion of stomach acid, which reduces pH, a measure of acidity.

It may also cause changes in the gut that increase the risk of stomach ulcers or cancer, such as inflammation.

Vaping is the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, which are devices that heat up to create vapor that a person inhales. This practice involves exposure to nicotine and other harmful chemicals.

A 2021 study revealed that chronic use of e-cigarettes may contribute to the increase of inflammation and harm the gut barrier that protects against diseases.

Read more about vaping here.

Smoking has wide-ranging effects on the digestive tract that can lead to several conditions. Evidence indicates that these include:

  • inhibiting the synthesis of mucus, the substance that helps protect the intestinal tract from inflammation and infections
  • changing mucus composition
  • causing an imbalance in the gut bacterial community between beneficial and harmful strains
  • increasing cell death in the tissue lining the intestine
  • increasing inflammation

Visit our hub to learn more about the digestive system here.

Smoking and liver disease

Research from 2020 suggests that the adverse effects of smoking on the liver include the following:

  • The development of liver cancer may accelerate in people with chronic hepatitis infections.
  • There may be a link to progressive fibrosis in chronic, or long-term, liver disease. Fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue that results from damage to the organ.
  • The negative effect on lung function may prevent an individual from being a candidate for liver transplantation.
  • Certain risks that have an association with liver transplantation may increase.

Read more about liver disease here.

Smoking and peptic ulcers

A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach or duodenum, the first part of the small intestine, which connects to the stomach. Research suggests that smoking increases the incidence and relapse rate of peptic ulcers.

This apparent link may be due to several factors. Some research indicates that these may include an increased risk of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterial infection that causes most peptic ulcers, and a rise in stomach acid secretion.

Read more about peptic ulcers here.

Smoking and digestive conditions

Smoking has links with the following digestive conditions:

  • Crohn’s disease: This involves inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can cause pain and diarrhea. Smokers with Crohn’s disease also have an elevated rate of repeat surgery, relapse, and immunosuppressive treatment, which are medications that reduce inflammation.
  • Reflux: Smoking weakens the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus, or food pipe. This can result in the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus, which can cause heartburn. It also weakens the sphincter between the stomach and duodenum.
  • Cancers: Research reports that smoking is a risk factor for several cancers of the digestive tract. These include esophageal, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer. One of the underlying reasons may involve genetic changes that lead to tumor formation, which chronic inflammation from smoking produces. It may also stem from the broad spectrum of cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke.
  • Polyps: A 2020 study notes that smoking increases the risk of polyp formation in the colon. Polyps are growths that protrude into the intestine and can lead to colon cancer.

Quitting smoking can reduce the symptoms of some digestive conditions or prevent them from worsening. For example, a 2016 study found that it can reduce symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux.

However, quitting does not always reverse the conditions in which smoking has played a role. For instance, although quitting reduces the risk of polyps, the likelihood remains higher in past smokers than in nonsmokers.

Methods to quit smoking include the following:

  • Self-help: Involves using self-help interventions, such as helplines and community programs.
  • Counseling: Entails behavioral therapies or counseling. It can take several forms, such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a free national counseling service in the United States that the CDC cite.
  • Bupropion (Zyban): An atypical antidepressant that reduces cravings.
  • Varenicline (Chantix): A medication that decreases the enjoyment of nicotine.
  • Nicotine replacement therapy: This option comes in different forms, such as patches and lozenges. It partially replaces the nicotine that smokers would get in cigarettes, so it helps with symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Combinations: Doctors may advise combining some medications or combining medication with counseling.

Find 11 tips for quitting smoking here.

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal often decrease over 1 month.

If stomach pain is severe or persistent, a person should contact a doctor.

Smoking, as well as vaping, may produce adverse effects on the stomach and other parts of the digestive system that can cause abdominal pain.

These effects may include increased inflammation and an imbalance between beneficial and potentially harmful bacterial strains. Therefore, smoking may worsen or increase the risk of various conditions, such as peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and cancers of the digestive tract.

Although quitting smoking does not always reverse a condition, it can help reduce symptoms and prevent a condition’s progression.

Ways to quit smoking include self-help, counseling, medications, or a combination.