Smoking & Cardiovascular Disease (Heart Disease)

Updated:Feb 17,2014
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Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

Learn the Risks

Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It accounts for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing several chronic disorders. These include fatty buildups in arteries, several types of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung problems). Atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty substances in the arteries) is a chief contributor to the high number of deaths from smoking. Many studies detail the evidence that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack.

Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It accounts for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing several chronic disorders. These include fatty buildups in arteries, several types of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung problems). Atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty substances in the arteries) is a chief contributor to the high number of deaths from smoking. Many studies detail the evidence that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack.

Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes are the six major independent risk factors for coronary heart disease that you can modify or control.

Cigarette smoking is so widespread and significant as a risk factor that the Surgeon General has called it "the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States."

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by itself. When it acts with other factors, it greatly increases risk. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.

Cigarette smoking is the most important risk factor for young men and women. It produces a greater relative risk in persons under age 50 than in those over 50.

Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptives.

Smoking decreases HDL (good) cholesterol. Cigarette smoking combined with a family history of heart disease also seems to greatly increase the risk

Studies show that cigarette smoking is an important risk factor for stroke. Inhaling cigarette smoke produces several effects that damage the cerebrovascular system. Women who take oral contraceptives and smoke increase their risk of stroke many times. Smoking also creates a higher risk for peripheral arterial disease and aortic aneurysm.

People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease (and possibly stroke), but their risk isn't as great as that of cigarette smokers. This is probably because they're less likely to inhale the smoke. Currently there's very little scientific information on cigar and pipe smoking and cardiovascular disease, especially among young men, who represent the vast majority of cigar users.

The link between seconhand smoke (also called environmental tobacco smoke) and disease is well known, and the connection to cardiovascular-related disability and death is also clear. About 22,700 to 69,600 premature deaths from heart and blood vessel disease are caused by other people's smoke each year.

For decades the American Heart Association has been working to reduce the number of deaths that result from tobacco use. Thanks in part to the work of the American Heart Association, there is no smoking on airline flights, there are lifesaving automated external defibrillators in many public places, and many of us enjoy smokefree communities.

The American Heart Association is active in communities around the nation advocating for healthful policies that reduce tobacco use, especially among youth, and non-smokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke. Read more about how we are Reducing Tobacco-Related Deaths Through Advocacy.

Discover more about what the association is doing on the federal, state and local levels to curb tobacco use.

Your heart will thank you for quitting smoking, so don’t waste any time. The health benefits start almost immediately, and within a few years of quitting your risk of stroke and coronary artery disease are similar to non-smokers. We can help with resources and tools for the healthiest decision you will make – quitting smoking.

Don’t just stand on the sidelines – speak up and let your elected officials know you want to fight tobacco use! Join You’re the Cure, our advocacy network of people committed to reducing death and disability from heart disease and stroke, and a group passionate about tobacco control.



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