Which is worse for your health: smoking or being constantly stressed?

The Vitl Nutrition Team / 5 Oct 2021

Our in-house nutritionist discusses the impact of smoking and stress on our health.



Tobacco use and smoking has an ancient history dating back to the 15th and 16th century. The social history of smoking and the role it has in everyday cultural practices may explain why smoking is so prevalent even when the health-related risks are known and widely accepted. Tobacco has been labelled as a global public health issue and approximately 1 billion people are smokers. 

The risks associated with smoking can be attributed to tobacco and nicotine. There are over 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke of which 250 are known to be harmful. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in cigarettes and vapes (e-cigarettes). It raises blood pressure and causes an increase in adrenaline. Vaping carries other risks such as not knowing what chemicals make up the vapour and how they may affect physical health in the long term. Vaping is often marketed as a tool to help stop smoking and although some research suggests that it can help with cessation, it can also lead to more smoking.  

Smoking increases the risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions, which is the reason that quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. 


A recent survey was done to assess how stressed the UK population is. It revealed that almost a third of adults feel stressed ten or more days a month. And that one in 14 people in the UK say that they feel stressed everyday. Chronic stress can lead to poor health outcomes due to the constant release of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. It alters the immune system response (higher risk of developing infections) and suppresses the digestive system (impacting our ability to absorb food). Other detrimental impacts of stress are; weight gain, poor sleep, concentration and memory problems, heart disease and high blood pressure. 

But which is worse?

Although both feeling stressed constantly and being a regular smoker have negative effects on physical and mental wellbeing, smoking is considered worse. The two often come hand in hand as stressed individuals will reach for something to help them cope with their stress. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that high levels of perceived stress are associated with increased prevalence of smoking. 

Nicotine creates an immediate sense of relaxation, so people smoke in the belief that it reduces stress and anxiety, however this is a short-lived feeling. 

If you are a smoker, there is a lot of support available to help you quit. It’s never too late to give up and you may find that quitting reduces your levels of stress, anxiety and depression. 

Useful links:

Tips to help stop smoking

Stop smoking services finder

Practical guidance to help quit smoking