The link between smoking and cardiovascular disease is well known, but how much more likely is a smoker to suffer from various subtypes of cardiovascular disease?
In 2016, 9.4 million deaths were caused by heart disease, making it the number one cause of death in the world. The link between smoking and cardiovascular disease is well known, and smoking is a leading cause of other health problems, including lung cancer, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of other diseases, such as tuberculosis.
Because most studies have focused on the risk of death caused by smoking, researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) wanted to determine how much smoking increased the risk of all types of cardiovascular disease, fatal and non-fatal. They also wanted to determine the risks of cardiovascular disease to past smokers and heavy, medium, or low current smokers. Their results were published in the journal BMC Medicine.
Researchers analyzed data from the 45 and Up Study, which followed 188,167 men and women aged 45 and over from 2006-2015 living in New South Wales, Australia. The participants were classified into three groups: never smoker, past smoker, and current smoker. Participants who were current smokers or past smokers were grouped by how much they smoked per day.
To determine the risks of smoking and cardiovascular disease, researchers examined data from area hospitals to determine the causes of death related to cardiovascular disease and non-fatal cardiovascular disease-related conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. When a participant experienced a cardiovascular disease-related event, researchers tracked the amount of time from the beginning of the study until the event, the type of event, and the smoking history of the participant. If the participant experienced no health issues, the amount of time was calculated as the length of the study.
Using this data, researchers determined that not only are current smokers three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, but they are also at least two times more likely to develop all types of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Current smokers are five times more likely to develop hardened arteries. Researchers also identified that smoking increases the risk of abnormally rapid heart rate.
Smokers were at a higher risk of experiencing 29 of the 36 most common cardiovascular events. The more a person smoked, the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease. Even light amounts of smoking were shown to be dangerous by the study. Those who were light smokers were two times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-smokers. Also, younger smokers put themselves at a much greater risk for cardiovascular disease than their same-age nonsmoking counterparts.
Researchers did find some encouraging data for former smokers. Those who quit smoking by age 35-44 could avoid 90% of the cardiovascular diseases caused by smoking.
Researchers hope that the results of this study on the risks of smoking and cardiovascular disease can be used in creating campaigns that continue to emphasize the risks of smoking, even light smoking, and the benefits of quitting, no matter what age.
The data is clear that smoking and cardiovascular disease are strongly linked. Any amount of smoking is dangerous, and quitting is the best way to reduce that risk.
Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.
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Banks E, Joshy G, Korda R et al. Tobacco smoking and risk of 36 cardiovascular disease subtypes: fatal and non-fatal outcomes in a large prospective Australian study. BMC Med. 2019;17(1). doi:10.1186/s12916-019-1351-4
Top 10 causes of death. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/causes_death/top_10/en/. Published 2019. Accessed July 6, 2019.
Don’t Let Tobacco Take Your Breath Away. Apps.who.int. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/312260/WHO-NMH-PND-2019.3-eng.pdf. Published 2019. Accessed July 6, 2019.