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Does Smoking Really Protect Against Parkinson’s Disease?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking, considered one of the great public health achievements of our time and the first of 30 other such reports from the Surgeon General on smoking. Internal tobacco industry memos, which you can see in my Is Something in Tobacco Protective Against Parkinson’s Disease? video, document their response. Major criticisms of the report include a “[c]avalier treatment of costs of smoking”: The Surgeon General argued that smoking costs the United States billions, but the tobacco industry noted that “smoking saves the country money by increasing the number of people dying soon after retirement,” so we don’t have to pay for Social Security, Medicare, and the like. In fact, the industry argued, if we were truly patriotic, maybe we should encourage smoking to help balance the budget!

The tobacco industry also criticized the Surgeon General for a “[l]ack of balance regarding benefits of smoking,” asserting that “[o]ne has to search pretty hard to find any concession anywhere in the Report that smoking is not all bad.” This is something the tobacco industry liked to bring up when testifying before Congress, saying that health benefits include “the feeling of well-being, satisfaction, and happiness and everything else.” But beyond just all the happiness the Surgeon General was trying to extinguish, he failed to even mention that smokers appear protected against Parkinson’s disease.

“Quite unexpectedly…[m]ore than 50 studies over the last half century consistently demonstrated reduced prevalence of Parkinson’s disease among smokers compared with never-smokers.” Now there are more than five dozen studies.

But smokers are probably dying before they even have a chance to get Parkinson’s, so is that the explanation? No, that didn’t seem to be it. Researchers found a protective effect at all ages. Maybe it’s because smokers tend to be coffee drinkers, and we know coffee consumption alone appears protective. But, no. The protective effect of smoking remained even after carefully controlling for coffee intake. Well, maybe we inherit some propensity to not smoke and to get Parkinson’s. If only we could clone someone to have the same DNA. We can! They’re called identical twins. And still, the relationship remained, suggesting “a true biologic protective effect of cigarette smoking.”

Not so fast. Maybe finding unusually low rates of Parkinson’s among smokers is an example of reverse causation. That is, maybe smoking doesn’t protect against Parkinson’s—maybe Parkinson’s protects against smoking. Could there be something about a Parkinson’s brain that makes it easier to quit? Or perhaps failure to develop a smoking habit in the first place is an early manifestation of the disease.

To put that to the test, researchers studied children exposed to their parents’ smoke. If they grew up to have less Parkinson’s, that would confirm the protective link—and indeed they did. So, smoking really does seem to be protective against Parkinson’s disease, but who cares? How does that help us? “More than 20 million Americans have died as a result of smoking since the first Surgeon General’s report…” Even if we didn’t care about dying from lung cancer and emphysema, even if we only cared about our brain, we still wouldn’t smoke because smoking is a significant risk factor for having a stroke, as well.

Is there a way we could get the benefits of smoking without the risks through our diet? I discuss this in my Peppers and Parkinson’s: The Benefits of Smoking Without the Risks? video.

Other Parkinson’s videos include Preventing Parkinson’s Disease with Diet and Treating Parkinson’s Disease with Diet.

Diet may play a role in other movement disorders. For example:

Surprised about the potential benefits of coffee? See:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

18 responses to “Does Smoking Really Protect Against Parkinson’s Disease?

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  1. Oh goodie. If I take up smoking (never happen), I may not get the Big P, but lookit all the other nasties I might get:

    With the price of ciggies skyrocketing, you’d think people would attempt to stop their addictions already. Yeah, we know…..they’ve been seen dying in hospitals, strapped up to all sorts of apparatuses, and yet can’t unleash themselves from that last cancer stick. :-(

  2. I am going to have to read this one a few times.

    But it isn’t what it says about smoking, which I am interested in.

    I am interested in what this says about Parkinsons.

    1. I think it was this line, which confused me.

      “Could there be something about a Parkinson’s brain that makes it easier to quit?”

      Feels like it needed more clarification. Glad you put up the link.

      “Among former smokers, those with greater difficulty quitting or using nicotine substitutes were less likely to develop PD, with the risk being lowest among those reporting “extremely difficult to quit” compared with ‘easy to quit..”

      I read some other articles and they gave the theory that people with a reduced amount of dopamine, there will be less of a tendency for addiction or that the brain of the person with Parkinson’s uses nicotine differently.

      So Parkinson’s patients would have reduced dopamine.

      1. Hi, Deb.

        In the book Caffeine Blues by Stephen Cherniske, Research and Clinical Nutritionist, he mentions that “scientists confirmed that caffeine raises dopamine levels” and “One study even noted that the mechanism by which this occurs is ‘similar to that observed during amphetamine administration.’ ” , so that is probably why it helps those with Parkinson’s disease. Which also begs the question, why do they have lower levels? What are the environmental factors that may contribute to that?

        1. Lea,

          I’d like to direct you to some of the underlying findings by many researchers regarding, environmental insults as the cause of many Parkinson’s patients,
 (2014) then a newer finding, (2017) and for a review of exposures for non-farmer see:

          I appreciate that the first two articles are focused on organophosphate exposures, as one of the principal associated neurological insults, however it can also be associated with other neurotoxins. For a more inclusive look note the current paper (2017) found at:

          My clinical experience with Parkinson’s patients has consistently shown an association between exposures to a host of chemicals both vocational and household, including solvents to the OP and/or toxic metals resulting in neurodegenerative symptoms.

          Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger

        2. Thanks Lea,

          That is interesting.

          Caffeine raises it interests me.

          I used to drink liters and liters and XL coffee cups full of caffeine not to mention getting it from chocolate.

          I came from abuse and used to have serious suicidal depression. Got healed from it. Delivered from spirits maybe. But more than that – in Christianity it would be a move from the choice of death to the choice of life and from a Kingdom of darkness to a Kingdom of light.

          In the natural, one process I eventually did was to try to increase my neurotransmitters. I am laughing that I am putting this on a doctor’s website.

          The experimental concept jumped into my mind because I read that people who come from abuse end up having brains develop without feel-good neurotransmitters and without the receptors. And too many fight or flight neurotransmitters and those receptors.

          Science people please forgive me already becsuse I am just sharing what this broken-minded person felt like might be a good idea.

          Anyway, you mentioning caffeine raising it, my subconscious might already have been working on it before my brain found out.

          1. Laughing.

            The number of crazy concepts like that which has worked for me is do high and I know that Dr G would point to placebo effect and if it is…..

            Well, then I am in hyper-drive-placebo effect and going strong.

            1. Anyway, I am growing new neurons and assigning them to all sorts of cool things as we speak and that sounds just as crazy but the stroke community is doing it and I think the Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s and concussion community can, too.

  3. Wondering if Parkinsons patients have less of every addiction. (Dopamine theory versus Nicotine theory versus smoking actually does something which could possibly help them.)

  4. My step mother is on Parkinsons meds for her stroke. That is based on the “brain damage being helped by neurogenesis” theory.

    1. It is hard to make the leap to smoking might help brain damage. My brain does not compute.

      I have had smoker realities who had such bad things happen to the arteries to the brain.

  5. “I came from abuse and used to have serious suicidal depression. Got healed from it. Delivered from spirits maybe. But more than that – in Christianity it would be a move from the choice of death to the choice of life and from a Kingdom of darkness to a Kingdom of light.”
    – – – –

    Deb, have you ever heard of Byron Katie and her miserable background, and how it finally ended?

  6. It was especially interesting to find out that smoking helps fighting Parkinson’s, at least it helps fighting something and is not the cause of a disease but I was myself a smoker for 7-8 years and for the past 6 months I was able to quit smoking completely, I love it! How I did it? With CBD, which I read is also a tool to fight other big diseases, maybe even Parkinson’s, what made me even more confident in taking CBD regularly.

    Found what is CBD here:

    CBD for quitting smoking:

    CBD for Parkinson’s:

    Maybe you have your own experiences on overcoming mental addictions and fighting big diseases before they come to you?

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