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Smoking and Heart Disease

The American Heart Association (AHA) says diseases caused by smoking kill more than 440,000 people in the U.S. each year. Most new smokers are children and teens. Smokers have a higher risk for lung disease. This includes lung cancer and emphysema. They also have a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

Facts about smoking and heart disease

  • One out of every 5 smoking-related deaths is caused by heart disease.

  • Women older than 35 who smoke and take birth control pills are at much greater risk for heart disease, stroke, and blood clots.

  • Cigarette smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to get heart disease than nonsmokers.

  • Cigarette smoking doubles a person's risk for stroke.

How does smoking change the heart and blood vessels?


  • Causes an instant and long-term rise in blood pressure

  • Causes an instant and long-term rise in heart rate

  • Reduces blood flow from the heart

  • Reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body's tissues

  • Raises risk for blood clots

  • Harms blood vessels

  • Reduces blood flow to the brain

Smoking has also been linked with depression and stress.

What are the risks of secondhand smoke?

The CDC says about 34,000 nonsmokers die early from coronary heart disease each year from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke is smoke exhaled by smokers. It also includes smoke from the burning end of a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe.

Secondhand smoke can cause health problems for pregnant women, babies, and young children. Children and babies who are around tobacco smoke are more likely to have ear infections and asthma. They are also at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Secondhand smoke exposure contributes to about 400 infant deaths per year.

These symptoms may be from secondhand smoke:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat

  • Coughing

  • Extra phlegm (mucus) in the airways

  • Chest pain from lung irritation

  • Bronchitis

The symptoms of secondhand smoke may look like other health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Smoking and heart disease

Smoking tops the list of risk factors for heart disease. Other risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes. In fact, smoking is the single most preventable cause of early death in the U.S.

Why quit smoking?

According to the AHA, stopping smoking reduces the risk for heart disease by half. It also lowers the risk for repeat heart attacks and death by heart disease by half. Research also shows that quitting smoking helps lower the risk for things that can cause a heart attack. These include atherosclerosis, blood clots, and heart rhythm problems.

To quit, you need to be mentally ready and relatively stress-free. Physically, you need to commit to exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep. You must overcome 2 obstacles. One is the physical addiction to nicotine. The other is the habit of smoking. The National Cancer Institute offers these tips to help you quit using tobacco:

  • Think about why you want to quit.

  • Pick a stress-free time to quit.

  • Ask for support and encouragement from family, friends, and co-workers.

  • Start doing some exercise or activity each day to ease stress and improve your health.

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • Eat a balanced diet.

  • Join a quit-smoking program or other support group.

  • Disconnect your activities of smoking and replace them with new, healthier activities.

In some cases, nicotine replacement products can help break a smoking habit. Nicotine replacement products continue to give you nicotine to meet your nicotine craving. But these products don't contain the tars and toxic gases that cigarettes have. Talk with your healthcare provider before using these products if you are pregnant or nursing, or have a health condition. Some examples of nicotine replacement products are:

  • Nicotine chewing gum. An over-the-counter chewing gum that releases small amounts of nicotine to help ease nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

  • Nicotine patch. An over-the-counter patch put on the upper body once a day that releases a steady dose of nicotine to help reduce the urge to smoke.

  • Nicotine inhaler or nose spray. A prescription product that releases nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. This needs a healthcare provider's approval before use.

Medicines to help you quit smoking

  • Bupropion. This is a non-nicotine medicine to help you stop smoking. It's approved by the FDA. It comes in pill form. It changes the mood transmitters in the brain that are linked to addiction. Bupropion must be prescribed by a healthcare provider. It may not be right for everyone. Ask your provider for more information.

  • Varenicline. This is also a non-nicotine pill to help you quit smoking. It is approved by the FDA. It works on the nicotine receptors in the brain. Varenicline blocks nicotine from reaching them. This eases the desire for nicotine. Varenicline may not be right for everyone.

Online Medical Reviewer: Callie Tayrien RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2022
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