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Most people associate cigarette smoking and tobacco use suffer from breathing problems and lung cancer. But smoking is also a major cause of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease.

How serious a health problem is smoking?

  • Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death
  • Smoking is responsible for one out of every five deaths

Smoking: the cause of preventable disease and death
Smoking and tobacco use are significant risk factors for a variety of chronic disorders. Smokers die significantly earlier than nonsmokers: 13.2 years for men and 14.5 years for women.

What’s the link between smoking and cardiovascular disease?
Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis – a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. Atherosclerosis occurs when the normal lining of the arteries deteriorates, the walls of the arteries thicken, and deposits of fat and plaque block the flow of blood through the arteries.

In coronary artery disease, the arteries that supply blood to the heart become severely narrowed, decreasing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, especially during times of increased activity. Extra strain on the heart may result in chest pain (angina pectoris) and other symptoms. Coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack.

In peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis affects the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs. As a result, the patient may experience painful cramping of the leg muscles when walking (a condition called intermittent claudication). Peripheral artery disease also increases the risk of stroke.

What’s the link between smoking and heart attack?
A person’s risk of heart attack greatly increases with the number of cigarettes he or she smokes. There is no safe amount of smoking. Smokers continue to increase their risk of heart attack the longer they smoke. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers.

What’s the link between smoking and oral contraceptives?
Cigarette smoking increases the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects from oral contraceptive use (birth control pills). The risk increases with age and with heavy smoking (15 or more cigarettes per day) and is quite marked in women over 35 years of age. In addition to the increased risk of heart attack, there is also an increased risk of blood clots, pulmonary embolism, peripheral artery disease, stroke and deep vein thrombosis.

Can smoking affect my kidneys?

  • Smoking can affect medicines used to treat high blood pressure. Uncontrolled or poorly controlled high blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney disease.
  • Smoking slows the blood flow to important organs like the kidneys and can make kidney disease worse.

Is smoking a problem for people with high blood pressure?
People with high blood pressure should not smoke because:

  • Smoking can affect some of the medicines used to treat high blood pressure.
  • Smoking increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks in people with high blood pressure.

Is smoking a problem for people with diabetes?

  • Smoking slows blood flow to important organs and can worsen heart, blood vessel and kidney problems.
  • Smoking slows blood flow to your feet, making sores and infections harder to heal.

What health problems are related to smoking?
Smokers have a higher risk for:

  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Lung disease
  • Mouth cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Pancreas cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Cervical cancer
  • Stroke
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Kidney cancer
  • Early menopause

Smoking causes:

  • Decreased oxygen to the heart and to other tissues in the body
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Decreased HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased risk of developing coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • Increased risk of developing peripheral artery disease and stroke
  • Increased risk of developing lung cancer, throat cancer, chronic asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema
  • Increased risk of developing diabetes
  • Increased risk of developing a variety of other conditions, including gum disease and ulcers
  • Increased tendency for blood clotting
  • Increased risk of recurrent coronary artery disease after bypass surgery
  • Damage to cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
  • Increased risk of impotence
  • Increased risk of fertility problems
  • Increased wrinkles
  • Increased risk of becoming sick (especially among children: respiratory infections are more common among children exposed to secondhand smoke)

How does smoking affect others?
Cigarette smoke doesn’t just affect smokers. When you smoke, the people around you are at risk for developing health problems, especially children. Secondhand smoke (also called passive smoke or environmental tobacco smoke) affects people who are frequently around smokers. Secondhand smoke can cause chronic respiratory conditions, cancer, and heart disease. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers.

By quitting smoking, you will:

  • Prolong your life: According to the American Heart Association, smokers who quit between the ages of 35 and 39 add an average of 6 to 9 years to their lives. Smokers who quit between the ages of 65 and 69 increase their life expectancy by 1 to 4 years.
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease: Quitting smoking reduces the risk of repeat heart attacks and death from heart disease by 50 percent or more.
  • Reduce your risk of high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and stroke.
  • Reduce your risk for developing a variety of other conditions, including diabetes, lung cancer, throat cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, chronic asthma, ulcers, gum disease, and many other conditions.
  • Feel healthier: After quitting, you won’t cough as much or have as many sore throats, and you will increase your stamina.
  • Look and feel better. Quitting can help you prevent wrinkles, get rid of stained teeth, improve your skin, and even get rid of the stale smell in your clothes and hair.
  • Improve your sense of taste and smell.

How can I quit smoking?

  • Quitting smoking can be difficult.
  • Many programs are available to help smokers quit. Contact organizations like the American Cancer Society for information.
  • Your doctor can also offer suggestions to help you quit.