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Tobacco and Cardiovascular Disease

Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

Diet and Cardiovascular Disease


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  Tobacco and CVD

Listing of tobacco resources

QuestionWhat is the connection between smoking and heart disease?

AnswerCoronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Contrary to public perception, smoking-caused heart disease actually results in more deaths per year than smoking-caused lung cancer (1). Thirty percent of all heart disease deaths are caused by cigarette smoking (2). Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of heart disease in the United States.

Tobacco smoke contains high levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide affects the heart by reducing the amount of oxygen the blood is able to carry. This means that the heart, lungs, brain, and other vital organs do not always receive enough oxygen to perform everyday functions. At the same time, nicotine causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this causes extraordinary "wear and tear" on the cardiovascular system. People who use tobacco are more likely to have heart attacks, high blood pressure, blood clots, strokes, hemorrhages, aneurysms, and other disorders of the cardiovascular system.

Smoking actually triples the risk of dying from heart disease. Cigarette smoking is a major cause of stroke by increasing clotting factors in the blood, decreasing HDL cholesterol levels, increasing triglyceride levels, and damaging the lining of blood vessels. The risk for stroke increases as the number of cigarettes smoked increases.

QuestionWhat about secondhand smoke?

AnswerSecondhand smoke is a much greater problem than many people realize. Secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. This mixture contains more than 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and many of which are strong irritants. Secondhand smoke has been classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a known cause of lung cancer in humans. Secondhand smoke causes 30 times as many lung cancer deaths as all regulated air pollutants combined (3). Secondhand smoke is estimated by the EPA to cause approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers each year.

There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. In fact, long-term exposure to secondhand smoke has been shown to cause a 30% increase in the risk of heart disease in nonsmokers. It is estimated that 37,000 coronary heart disease deaths per year are caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke also negatively affects cardiovascular health by decreasing exercise endurance, damaging blood vessel walls, and increasing the tendency of blood platelets to clot, contributing to heart attacks. Also, nonsmokers’ bodies tend to react more dramatically to tobacco exposure than do smokers’ bodies, so lower levels of smoke can cause adverse effects.

QuestionI’ve smoked for most of my life. Is it worth it to quit now?

AnswerYES. People who quit smoking dramatically reduce their risk of dying from heart disease. The body begins to repair itself almost immediately. Quitting can help people who already have heart disease. People who quit smoking can cut their risk of having another heart attack or dying of heart disease in half. When a smoker quits, the risk of heart disease death begins to fall almost immediately, but it takes ten years for the risk to approach that of a nonsmoker (4).

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With five to 15 years, an ex-smoker's
risk of having a stroke is the same as
that of someone who never smoked.

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Quitting also reduces the risk of other circulatory diseases. People who quit smoking cut their risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm in half. The risk of having a stroke or hemorrhage is also reduced. Within five to 15 years, an ex-smoker’s risk of having a stroke is the same as that of someone who never smoked.

QuestionWon’t I gain weight if I quit smoking?

AnswerFour out of five people who quit smoking gain a small amount of weight. The average is about five pounds. Some of this weight gain is due to a temporary increase in appetite caused by nicotine withdrawal. This usually goes away within a few weeks or months after quitting. The slight weight gain many ex-smokers experience is not a health risk.

Experts think that nicotine interferes with metabolism or some other digestive process. Smokers and nonsmokers tend to eat about the same amount, but smokers weigh slightly less and have less healthy distribution of body fat. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke or who smoke or chew tobacco also exhibit high levels of overall cholesterol and low levels of high density lipoproteins or HDL ("good" cholesterol). This indicates that nicotine or some other component of tobacco interferes with normal digestion and metabolism.

It has been found that on average, smokers weigh only a few pounds less than nonsmokers of the same age and gender. Upon cessation, weight tends to increase only to a level the smoker would have attained/maintained if he/she had never smoked (5). Smoking should not be used as a weight loss tool.

Most ex-smokers have higher levels of exercise endurance, improved cardiovascular functioning, and more energy than they did while they were smokers. Studies indicate that beginning an exercise program for a few weeks before attempting to quit, and maintaining exercise for several weeks after successfully quitting, can help to prevent both weight gain and relapse.

Question When can I expect to see the benefits of quitting?

Answer As soon as a person quits smoking, his/her body begins to repair the damage caused by tobacco use. Within a few days or weeks, exercise endurance and cardiovascular capacity improve, and HDL (protective, "good" cholesterol) increases. Within a year, the risk for most cardiovascular diseases will be cut in half. In 15 smokefree years, an ex-smoker’s cardiovascular system will be as healthy as if he or she had never smoked.

QuestionDoes smokeless tobacco cause heart disease?

AnswerYes. Using smokeless tobacco increases the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease (6). It also increases the chances of cardiovascular stroke. Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokeless tobacco is highly addictive because of its high nicotine levels. It can be more difficult to quit this habit than smoking. Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.(tobacco continued, select forward)


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