Erectile dysfunction is a condition characterized by the inability of a man to achieve or hold an erection. The dysfunction can be caused by psychological and mental hang-ups, or the problem might be caused by physical problems. A large amount of research has demonstrated a link between smoking and erectile dysfunction. Men who smoke are one-and-a-half to two times as likely to develop erectile dysfunction as non-smokers, reports an article published in the August issue of the "Journal of Sexual Medicine."
Reduced Blood Flow
Erections result from increased blood flow to the penis. The blood engorges the spongy tissue of the penis and causes it to become erect. Numerous studies have demonstrated that smoking cigarettes decreases blood flow to the penis and disrupts the body's control of blood flow into the penis. These changes reduce the physical capacity of the penis to become erect.
A study published in the August 2008 issue of the "Journal of Sexual Medicine" demonstrated that administering nicotine alone, in the form of a nicotine gum, significantly reduced sexual arousal in men. This indicates that nicotine is one of the primary causes of the link between smoking and erectile dysfunction.
Cause of Reduced Blood Flow
Nicotine is a known vasoconstrictor, which means it causes blood vessels to become narrower and reduce blood flow. This constriction of blood vessels to the penis is part of the reason nicotine reduces sexual arousal in men, Princeton University Health Services explains. Furthermore, the vasoconstriction causes permanent damage to the blood vessels, which might make the problems of erectile dysfunction caused by smoking difficult to treat.
Other Effects of Smoking
The chemical nitric oxide is one of the primary neurotransmitters that regulates erections in men. Cigarette smoke contains free radicals and other chemicals that reduce the synthesis of nitric oxide, which further contributes to erectile dysfunction, the article in the "Journal of Sexual Medicine" explains. This disruption of neurotransmitter levels also might have long-term consequences for erectile dysfunction.