Coffee and Cigarettes: Time to Break the Link

Coffee and cigarettes are something of an iconic combination, having being immortalized as the title of a film and (in the opposite order) in a song. However, this combination is not without risks, and while coffee alone is relatively benign, the same can’t be said of cigarettes. In short, it’s time to break the link.

Coffee and cigarettes are a popular combination among smokers, but despite the widespread nature of smoking with a coffee, mixing caffeine and nicotine carries definite risks. Smokers claim that having a coffee and a cigarette is a good way to relax, but in actual fact both nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and the effects they have on your heart can combine to increase your risk even further. This is why breaking the link between cigarettes and coffee should be a priority for both smokers and coffee-drinkers alike.

The Health Effects of Coffee

The health effects of coffee have been controversial for a long time. There has been a long-standing assumption that coffee is bad for you, but in fact most of the stated risks disappear when studied in a reliable fashion. The most common concern about coffee is the effect it may have on the heart and blood vessels (the cardiovascular system), but research shows that people drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day actually had the lowest risks of cardiovascular disease, and heavy coffee drinkers didn’t show an increase in risk. This doesn’t mean that the combination of coffee and cigarettes is safe, but it suggests little (if any) risk from coffee alone.

The picture is very similar for other concerns about coffee, including the risk of cancer. In fact, evidence suggests that coffee could even have a protective effect against cancer in people who don’t smoke. Studies looking at overall risk of death also found a protective effect from coffee. This research is more focused on black coffee than coffee with milk and sugar, though, which is higher in calories and carries additional risks.

The Health Effects of Smoking

However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that smoking is nowhere near as benign as caffeine. Smoking causes a multitude of diseases, including lung and other cancers, coronary heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cerebrovascular disease and many other conditions. It’s called the leading preventable cause of death in the world and smokers lose an average of 10 years of life as a result.

The Combined Effect of Coffee and Cigarettes

The relatively benign nature of coffee may make you think that combining coffee and cigarettes won’t be any more dangerous than cigarettes alone, but unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case. The reason for this is that while it doesn’t appear to translate to real-world risk, caffeine has some effects on the heart and blood vessels – increasing the stiffness of arteries, for instance – and these combine with the effects of smoking to create an even bigger effect.

One study looked at the effect of coffee and cigarettes on the stiffness of the aorta (the main artery of the body), and found that there is a synergistic (combined) effect of consuming coffee and cigarettes on the heart. The combination increased aortic stiffness more than either would alone, and more than simply adding the effects of both substances.

Other research has also shown increased risks of conditions in people who both smoke and drink coffee. As well as results showing an increase in blood pressure, one study found that people who both smoked and drank four or more cups of coffee per day were at an 8-fold greater risk of having a heart attack than people who did neither. This yet again shows that while coffee alone doesn’t carry notable risks, the same can’t be said for coffee in combination with cigarettes.

Breaking the Link Between Coffee and Cigarettes

With research showing increased risks for some conditions in people who both smoke and drink coffee, breaking the link between the two is essential for protecting your health. One part of the issue is that drinking coffee can be a “trigger” for smoking. In other words, you might get cravings for a cigarette when you drink coffee because you combine the two so often. Breaking this link means changing one of the two elements. In light of the generally favorable effects of coffee-drinking, it may be worth trying to switch the cigarettes for fresh, crunchy vegetables or a salty snack. You could also switch to tea for a while as you quit smoking.

Another valuable alternative is switching to an alternative source of nicotine, so you can still have the same type of experience but with reduced risks. For instance, chewing a piece of nicotine gum, using smokeless tobacco or “vaping” with an e-cigarette are all alternatives to smoking that can help you break the link between coffee and cigarettes.

Regardless of the approach you try, the best advice is to do anything you can to quit smoking. While coffee and cigarettes aren’t a safe combination, if you cut the smoking out of the equation, coffee could even be beneficial. You might miss the cigarettes with your morning coffee for a while, but soon the cravings will fade, and your health will improve with every day you stay smoke-free.