The World Health Organization (WHO) and their partners mark May 31 as World No Tobacco Day to highlight the health issues associated with tobacco use. This year’s theme is “Tobacco and heart disease.” Here in the U.S., “heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and is the leading cause of death worldwide.” Some risks of heart disease can not be changed, such as family history or age, but others such as high blood pressure, stress, physical inactivity or smoking, can be improved through lifestyle changes. The more risk factors you have, the higher the likelihood you will develop heart disease.
Scientists have known since the 1940s that smoking is linked to heart disease as well as cancer, but while cancer is reported more often, many are unaware of the link to heart disease. In China, a country with very high smoking rates, up to 61% of adults were not aware of the increased risk.
Smoking damages the heart in several ways. It damages the lining of the blood vessels, and increases fat deposits in the arteries. It raises your LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowers your HDL (good cholesterol). It increases clotting. The nicotine in tobacco increases your heart rate and raises your blood pressure. You don’t need to be a heavy smoker to see signs of heart disease from smoking. Smoking as few as five cigarettes a day can increase your risk of coronary heart disease or CHD, especially in women. For men the number is six to nine cigarettes a day to double your risk. Even living with a smoker can increase a nonsmokers risk of heart disease by 25% – 30% due to the chemicals and nicotine in smoke.
If you are thinking of using smokeless tobacco instead of smoking, there are risks associated with that as well. Those who use smokeless tobacco also have an increased risk of heart disease due to the nicotine in their products. The nicotine in snuff and chewing tobacco “causes an immediate increase in heart rate and blood pressure” when the product is used.
We have made progress in reducing smoking rates, but we need to do more to prevent so many deaths. The good news is quitting smoking can reduce your cardiovascular risk over time to that of a nonsmoker while quitting smokeless tobacco can not only prevent heart issues, but a host of other health issues as well.