Why You Should Be Smoke-Free for Surgery

Your doctor has talked to you about surgery. Just the thought of it may cause you to feel stressed. If it is your habit to light up a cigarette during tense times, there are many reasons why you should kick the habit now—before your procedure.

Facing the Potential Risks

Like many people facing surgery, you may really want to quit. Or, you may think that smoking will not cause a problem for the particular type of surgery that you need. However, no matter what type of surgery you are having, smoking can increase your risk of complications. A large number of studies have found that, compared to nonsmokers, smokers may have an increased risk of:

  • Respiratory and/or lung complications
  • Delays in wound and/or bone healing
  • Wound infection
  • A longer hospital stay
  • Longer recovery time
  • Being sent to the intensive care unit (ICU)
  • Being readmitted to the hospital

Delaying of wound healing is a major concern that doctors have about smoking. Nicotine triggers the blood vessels to become narrower, affecting blood flow. In addition, carbon monoxide, found in cigarette smoke, gets into the bloodstream, which means that there is less oxygen for the healing tissues. Just when your body needs more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, smoking acts as a barrier—blocking your body’s natural process to heal itself.

Zeroing in on Your Goal

Keep your goal in mind: to have a successful surgery with very few complications. No matter if you need surgery on your gums, shoulder, or any other body part, quitting smoking may help you heal faster and have a better outcome. Just think—having fewer complications can translate into less pain, a quicker return to your usual routine, fewer trips to the doctor and pharmacy, and more money in your pocket.

Even if your surgery is already scheduled, it is not too late to quit. While it is better to be smoke-free for months—rather than weeks—before surgery, making the decision to quit is an important one for your overall health. So if you are getting closer to the surgery date, use that as a reason to finally kick the habit.

If you think that quitting so soon before your surgery will not make a difference, the American Cancer Society points out that your heart rate and blood pressure are reduced just 20 minutes after quitting. And within 12 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood is also reduced. Two weeks to 3 months of being smoke-free can result in better circulation and improved lung function.

Starting the Process

There are so many smoking cessation options that you are sure to find one that fits your lifestyle. A great place to start the process is by making an appointment with your doctor. You will be able to get information about:

  • Nicotine replacement products, including patches, gum, and lozenges—While using one of these products is a much safer choice than smoking, you should still talk to your doctor about any potential risks nicotine may pose during or after surgery.
  • Nicotine inhalers or nasal sprays
  • Prescription medications that can reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal
  • Smoking cessation classes and support groups
  • Alternative methods, such as hypnosis or acupuncture

In order to be successful with your quit plan, you may need to combine strategies, like using a nicotine replacement product and joining a support group. Try different methods to reach your goal of being a nonsmoker. Also, visit websites like the http://www.cancer.org and the http://www.lung.org, which provide a lot of smoking cessation resources. In addition, http://www.smokefree.gov offers a “Step-by-Step Quit Guide.”

If you are waiting for your surgery to be scheduled, now would be a good time to talk to your doctor about your desire to quit smoking. The surgery may be postponed (especially if it is elective) to give you more time to be smoke-free.


American Lung Association


Canadian Cancer Society


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Updated February 6, 2014. Accessed April 13, 2017.
Lindstrom D, Sadr Azodi O, Wladis A, et al. Effects of a perioperative smoking cessation intervention on postoperative complications: A randomized trial. Ann Surg. 2008;248(5):739-745.
Nasell H, Adami J, Samnegard E, Tonnesen H, Ponzer S. Effect of smoking cessation intervention on results of acute fracture surgery: A randomized controlled trial. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2010;92(6):1335-1342.
Surgery and smoking. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at:
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Updated December 2013. Accessed April 13, 2017.
Theadom A, Cropley M. Effects of preoperative smoking cessation on the incidence and risk of intraoperative and postoperative complications in adult smokers: A systematic review. 2006;15(5):352-358.
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Tobacco use. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114788/Tobacco-use. Updated January 17, 2017. Accessed April 13, 2017.
Tonnesen H. Surgery and smoking at first and second hand: Time to act. Anesthesiology. 2011;115(1):1-3.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 5/13/2015

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