Even one cigarette a day increases your risk of heart disease and stroke

Tobacco consumed in any form, smoked, swallowed, or chewed, poses multiple hazards to health. In addition to increasing the risk of cancer, it is closely linked to coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke

Even one cigarette a day increases your risk of heart disease and stroke
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Cigarette smoke is commonly associated with lung cancer and lung ailments.

But smoking and chewing tobacco is also the second most common cause of cardiac illness.  As per statistics, tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure contribute to approximately 12% of all heart disease deaths. Tobacco use is the second leading cause of cardiovascular disease, after high blood pressure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Global Burden of Disease Study also have highlighted increasing trends in years of life lost (YLLs) and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) from Coronary Heart Diseases in India.

Active tobacco smoking is undoubtedly a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease but so is second-hand smoking or passive smoking. The cardiovascular risks attributable to tobacco smoking increase with the amount of tobacco smoked and the years of having smoked.

Smoke, in a closed environment like home, spreads rapidly from room to room and can linger for up to 5 hours. This would mean that people (children and non-smokers) entering the house even later are exposed to the harmful effects of smoke.  Being exposed to the smoke on a regular basis increases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke for all those breathing the smoke through passive smoking.

Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals including nicotine and tar. Nicotine is associated with increase in heart rate, blood pressure and myocardial contractility; while tar causes inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels, increasing the formation of clots and reduced level of good cholesterol.

The nicotine stimulates the body to produce adrenaline, which makes the heart beat faster and raises the blood pressure, making the heart work harder.

The carbon monoxide in the smoke replaces oxygen in the blood, thereby reducing the availability of oxygen for the heart muscle and other body tissues.

Hookah smoking is even more harmful because, in addition to inhaling tobacco-combustion products, the smokers and passive smokers in hookah parlours are also exposed to large amounts of charcoal combustion products from the burning charcoal briquettes used to heat the hookah flavoured tobacco. The toxicological constituents of hookah smoke, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, particulates, oxidants, have the potential to cause adverse cardiovascular events.

Smokeless tobacco that is chewed may also cause heart disease by acutely elevating blood pressure and contributing to chronic hypertension.

There are immediate and long-term benefits in quitting tobacco.

  • Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure fall.
  • In 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • Two to 12 weeks later, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
  • Within one to nine months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
  • One year on, the risk of coronary heart disease is about half that of a smoker’s.
  • Five to 15 years after quitting, your stroke risk falls to that of a non-smoker.
  • One decade after quitting, your risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker and your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases.
  • 15 years later, the risk of coronary heart disease is at the same rate as that of a non-smoker’s.

The author is a Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at K J Somaiya Super Specialty Hospital