Smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Each year, nearly 440,000 deaths can be attributed to smoking. Nicotine is the underlying powerful and addictive drug that is found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.
Smoking inarguably causes heart disease and cancer. Inhaled tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen available to the heart. It also constricts arteries and increases atherosclerosis. Smoking is responsible for 87% of the cases of lung cancer, and it causes the majority of the cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Additionally, smokers have two to four times the risk of sudden cardiac death.
Smokers themselves suffer adverse effects from cigarette smoke, but secondhand smoke also causes cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma. Children are especially affected by secondhand smoke, worsening the symptoms of asthma. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 1 million children have aggravated symptoms due to secondhand smoke.
By itself, smoking:
- Increases blood pressure.
- Decreases exercise tolerance.
- Increases the tendency for blood to clot.
- Decreases HDL cholesterol.
- Damages blood vessels.
- Deprives cells of oxygen.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone who uses tobacco is at risk for cardiovascular disease and many other chronic health conditions. Nearly 80% of those who use tobacco begin doing so before age 18, and the most common age range of initiation is 14 to 15 years. Additionally, the prevalence of smoking is highest among those living below the poverty level. According to the World Health Organization, more than 4,000 people begin smoking each day, half of which are youth; 13,500 deaths each day are the result of tobacco; half of children are exposed to secondhand smoke at home; and 10.3% of women and 47.5% of men smoke.
To Quit Smoking
The risk of heart disease decreases by 50% as early as one year after quitting. Most smokers are unsuccessful the first few times they try to quit; it often requires multiple attempts. Each attempt is one step closer to success in the journey. Using counseling or medication alone increases the chance of success, but the combination of both is more effective. Additional strategies that help smokers quit include:
- Stress Management.
- Many people smoke to relieve tension, stress, and to help them relax. Learn positive ways to manage stress, such as relaxation or meditation.
- Physical Activity.
- Physical activity has many of the same psychological effects as smoking, including an increased sense of control, improved ability to relax, more restful sleep, and an improved ability to cope with stressful situations. Find several enjoyable physical activities to incorporate into your daily schedule.
- Take control of your diet before you prepare to quit smoking by eating a variety of healthful foods. Women are especially fearful of gaining weight when they quit smoking, but eating a healthful diet will help prevent weight gain. Smoking is more hazardous to your health than gaining a few extra pounds.
- Social Support.
- Developing a social support system is important in every smoking cessation plan. Determine those people who will help and involve them in your efforts.
A wide variety of different programs exist to help smokers quit. Keep trying until you are successful. Your heart will thank you for it!
Minneapolis Heart Foundation www.mplsheartfoundation.org/education/education_riskfactors_smoking.asp
American Heart Association www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4545
American Lung Association http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&B=39853