a scuba diver silouhetted against the surface

Can You Scuba Dive If You Smoke or Vape?

While smoking rates have been declining, the number of people vaping e-cigarettes has been increasing. Many people often wonder if they can scuba dive if they currently smoke or vape. 

After all, breathing is a core aspect of scuba diving. So can you scuba dive if you smoke or vape?

Yes, you can scuba dive if you smoke or vape. In fact, I know of many divers that do smoke at least semi-regularly. However, as you would imagine, there are additional risks. Furthermore, if you smoke or vape and want to dive, you should consult a doctor first.

Let’s take a more in depth look about this issue. We’ll look at some of the biological aspects of diving and concerns related to smoking and diving.

a scuba diver with fish

The Biology of Diving

One of the most critical processes for diving is gas exchange. Breathing compressed air underwater causes the body to absorb nitrogen into the blood and tissues. As we ascend, the nitrogen is released; however, ascending too quickly can cause bubbles of nitrogen to form and decompression sickness.

Smoking contributes to a process called vasoconstriction, the narrowing of blood vessels that reduces blood flow. This reduces the efficiency with which nitrogen can be removed from the body.

Another biological factor lies in hemoglobin, the red blood cells that transport gases through the body. The hemoglobin of smokers is more likely to bond to carbon dioxide than oxygen. This can not only lead to shortness of breath but requires greater numbers of red blood cells, which further restricts blood flow and lowers off-gassing rates.  

Smoking and Diving: Concerns

We all know that smoking is damaging for our lungs. However, many of us still partake in an occasional or frequent cigarette. However, smoking will impact diving ability in a number of ways with most of these effects stemming from long term use.

First, consider that the lungs and the heart are under heavier than usual stress when diving from the increased pressure. This may be surprising as diving itself doesn’t necessarily feel strenuous. However, you’ll probably notice that you’re tired after a day of diving. This is from the stress on your body.

a scuba diver at a desk within a wreck

Smokers typically have decreased lung capacity and are more likely to get out of breath. This means controlled breathing underwater is even more important than usual. In intense cases, increased pressure on the lungs can cause lung barotrauma, which is very dangerous and can lead to drowning or a heart attack.

Another major concern is the heart. Smoking increases blood pressure. Diving does as well, even in perfectly healthy individuals. Thus, the combination of the two can cause problems including increased risk of heart attack.

Data also shows that smokers are more likely to experience panic attacks underwater, a major concern for diving safety. Acid reflux is also seen more periodically in smokers who dive.

Finally, all people become more at risk for decompression sickness as they age. This is because the body becomes less efficient at gas exchange. Smokers see these risks at earlier ages than non-smokers due to the biological effects discussed above.

Ultimately, there are a wide number of concerns that are related to smoking and scuba diving. This is why it is critical to get a physical and consult your doctor before learning to dive. In fact, diving accreditation agencies require anyone over 45 who smokes to get a medical waiver before becoming certified.

Vaping and Diving: Concerns

Vaping is a relatively new trend. Because of this, there is not as extensive of research with vaping as there is with smoking. In fact, vaping has been around since 2004 but only really popular for less than a decade.

However, there are some things that we generally know about vaping. Most notably, vaping is known to result in increased airway resistance and inflammation of the upper and lower respiratory tract. It has also been found to cause arterial stiffening in some cases.

a female scuba diver giving the OK sign

Divers Alert Network, an international non-profit that promotes diving safety, notes that it cannot yet provide direct insight into diving and vaping; however, it notes that anything that causes damage to the lungs is potentially harmful for diving.

In other words, we do not yet truly know how vaping impacts the ability to dive long-term. However, it can be reasoned that it likely has a negative effect and increases the potential for problems.

Final Thoughts

The reality is that smokers and vapers can scuba dive. There are many that do. However, if you are considering learning to scuba dive and you smoke or vape, you should get cleared by your doctor first.

Smoking leads to a number of increased risks for divers including lung and heart issues as well as decompression sickness. While there is not significant research yet regarding vaping and diving, preliminary research into its effects on the lungs suggest that vaping likely has similar increased risks.

As always, divers should evaluate their personal situation and tolerance for risk when considering whether to get involved in the sport.

While smoking rates have been declining, the number of people vaping e-cigarettes has been increasing. Many people often wonder if they can scuba dive if they currently smoke or vape. 

After all, breathing is a core aspect of scuba diving. So can you scuba dive if you smoke or vape?

Yes, you can scuba dive if you smoke or vape. In fact, I know of many divers that do smoke at least semi-regularly. However, as you would imagine, there are additional risks. Furthermore, if you smoke or vape and want to dive, you should consult a doctor first.

Let’s take a more in depth look about this issue. We’ll look at some of the biological aspects of diving and concerns related to smoking and diving.

The Biology of Diving

One of the most critical processes for diving is gas exchange. Breathing compressed air underwater causes the body to absorb nitrogen into the blood and tissues. As we ascend, the nitrogen is released; however, ascending too quickly can cause bubbles of nitrogen to form and decompression sickness.

Smoking contributes to a process called vasoconstriction, the narrowing of blood vessels that reduces blood flow. This reduces the efficiency with which nitrogen can be removed from the body.

Another biological factor lies in hemoglobin, the red blood cells that transport gases through the body. The hemoglobin of smokers is more likely to bond to carbon dioxide than oxygen. This can not only lead to shortness of breath but requires greater numbers of red blood cells, which further restricts blood flow and lowers off-gassing rates.  

Smoking and Diving: Concerns

We all know that smoking is damaging for our lungs. However, many of us still partake in an occasional or frequent cigarette. However, smoking will impact diving ability in a number of ways with most of these effects stemming from long term use.

First, consider that the lungs and the heart are under heavier than usual stress when diving from the increased pressure. This may be surprising as diving itself doesn’t necessarily feel strenuous. However, you’ll probably notice that you’re tired after a day of diving. This is from the stress on your body.

Smokers typically have decreased lung capacity and are more likely to get out of breath. This means controlled breathing underwater is even more important than usual. In intense cases, increased pressure on the lungs can cause lung barotrauma, which is very dangerous and can lead to drowning or a heart attack.

Another major concern is the heart. Smoking increases blood pressure. Diving does as well, even in perfectly healthy individuals. Thus, the combination of the two can cause problems including increased risk of heart attack.

Data also shows that smokers are more likely to experience panic attacks underwater, a major concern for diving safety. Acid reflux is also seen more periodically in smokers who dive.

Finally, all people become more at risk for decompression sickness as they age. This is because the body becomes less efficient at gas exchange. Smokers see these risks at earlier ages than non-smokers due to the biological effects discussed above.

Ultimately, there are a wide number of concerns that are related to smoking and scuba diving. This is why it is critical to get a physical and consult your doctor before learning to dive. In fact, diving accreditation agencies require anyone over 45 who smokes to get a medical waiver before becoming certified.

Vaping and Diving: Concerns

Vaping is a relatively new trend. Because of this, there is not as extensive of research with vaping as there is with smoking. In fact, vaping has been around since 2004 but only really popular for less than a decade.

However, there are some things that we generally know about vaping. Most notably, vaping is known to result in increased airway resistance and inflammation of the upper and lower respiratory tract. It has also been found to cause arterial stiffening in some cases.

Divers Alert Network, an international non-profit that promotes diving safety, notes that it cannot yet provide direct insight into diving and vaping; however, it notes that anything that causes damage to the lungs is potentially harmful for diving.

In other words, we do not yet truly know how vaping impacts the ability to dive long-term. However, it can be reasoned that it likely has a negative effect and increases the potential for problems.

Final Thoughts

The reality is that smokers and vapers can scuba dive. There are many that do. However, if you are considering learning to scuba dive and you smoke or vape, you should get cleared by your doctor first.

Smoking leads to a number of increased risks for divers including lung and heart issues as well as decompression sickness. While there is not significant research yet regarding vaping and diving, preliminary research into its effects on the lungs suggest that vaping likely has similar increased risks.

As always, divers should evaluate their personal situation and tolerance for risk when considering whether to get involved in the sport.

Mike Seals
Chief Crisp Eater at Guiness Brewey | + posts

Mike resides in landlocked Indiana but takes every opportunity to travel to warm waters for diving. When in his home state, he typically dives quarries. His favorite place to dive is the reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize. When not diving, he works as a researcher, runs marathons, and spends time with his three kids.

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