Most people associate cigarette smoking with breathing problems and lung cancer. But smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs. Smoking is the main preventable cause of death and illness in the United States.
About 20% of deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to tobacco use. The nicotine from chewing tobacco or any amount of smoking, even light smoking or occasional smoking, can damage your heart and blood vessels, temporarily raise blood pressure and lower your exercise tolerance. This damage increases your risk of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up in the arteries. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your arteries. Smoking also decreases the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Blood clots can form in arteries causing a range of heart diseases that could ultimately result in a stroke or sudden death.
A person’s chance of heart disease increases with the number of cigarettes they smoke and how long they have smoked. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack as someone who doesn’t smoke. For women who take birth control pills and people who have diabetes, smoking poses an even greater risk to the heart and blood vessels. Chewing tobacco and the smoke from cigars and pipes contains the same harmful chemicals as the smoke from cigarettes and can result in heart disease.
The impact of tobacco smoke is not confined solely to smokers. When you smoke, the people around you, especially children, are also at risk for having health problems. Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe or the smoke that’s breathed out by a person who is smoking. Secondhand smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals that people inhale when they smoke. Secondhand smoke can damage the hearts and blood vessels, and can increase the risk of heart attack and death, in people who don’t smoke in the same way that active smoking harms people who do smoke. About 35,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.
The good news is that quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can help reverse heart and blood vessel damage and reduce heart disease risk. The impact of quitting is almost immediate
Quitting smoking is possible, but it can be hard. Millions of people have quit smoking successfully and remained nonsmokers. A variety of strategies, programs, and medicines are available to help you quit smoking. Above all, you must also want to quit smoking for yourself, and not try to quit to please your friends or family.
If you relapse, don’t lose hope. Seventy-five percent of those who quit smoke again. Most folks quit three times before they succeed. Plan ahead and think about what you’ll do the next time you get the urge to smoke.