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  1. Health Effects of Tobacco Use

How Smoking Affects Heart Health

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Does Smoking Contribute to Heart Disease? 

Yes, smoking cigarettes can harm nearly any part of your body, including your heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system)

When breathed in, the toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals1 in cigarette smoke can interfere with important processes in your body that keep it functioning normally. One of these processes is the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to your heart and the rest of your body.

When you breathe, your lungs take in oxygen and deliver it to your heart, which pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the blood vessels. 

But when you breathe in cigarette smoke, the blood that is distributed to the rest of the body becomes contaminated with the smoke’s chemicals. These chemicals can damage your heart and blood vessels,1 which can lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD)—the leading cause of all deaths in the United States.2

What Cardiovascular Conditions Can Result from Smoking? 

Smoking cigarettes can permanently damage your heart and blood vessels. This can lead to cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease refers to multiple conditions affecting the heart and/or blood vessels.3 Some of these conditions include:

  • Coronary heart disease, or the narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to the heart.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Heart attack.
  • Stroke.
  • Aneurysms (a bulge or weakness in an artery).
  • Peripheral artery disease.1,2

Smoking cigarettes can also cause CVD by changing your blood chemistry.1,2 

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These changes in blood chemistry can cause plaque—a waxy substance comprised of cholesterol, scar tissue, calcium, fat, and other material3—to build up in your arteries, the major blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body. This plaque buildup can lead to a disease called atherosclerosis.

When the chemicals in cigarette smoke cause atherosclerosis and thickened blood in the arteries, it becomes more difficult for blood cells to move through arteries and other blood vessels to get to vital organs like the heart and brain.4 This can create blood clots and ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke, even death.1,2

Other rare but serious cardiovascular conditions that can be caused by smoking include:

  • Peripheral artery disease (and peripheral vascular disease): A condition in which the narrowing of blood vessels results in insufficient blood flow to arms, legs, hands, and feet. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of this condition, which can result in amputation.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm: A bulge that is formed in an area of the aorta—the main artery that distributes blood through the body—that sits in the abdomen. When an abdominal aortic aneurysm bursts, it can result in sudden death. More women than men die from aortic aneurysms, and nearly all deaths from this condition are caused by smoking.4

How Many People Die Each Year from Cardiovascular Disease Caused by Smoking?

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease accounts for about 800,000 U.S. deaths every year,5 making it the leading cause of all deaths in the United States. Of those, nearly 20 percent are due to cigarette smoking.2

Can Secondhand Smoke Increase My Risk for Coronary Heart Disease?

While smoking is a direct cause of cardiovascular disease and death, you could be at risk even if you don’t smoke cigarettes. 

People who don’t smoke cigarettes but who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke have a 25 to 30 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease than those not exposed.6 

In fact, 30,000 U.S. coronary heart disease deaths per year are caused by secondhand smoke.7 Secondhand smoke exposure also increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.6,7

Can Quitting Smoking Improve My Heart Health? 

The best way to safeguard your heart from smoking-related disease and death is to never start using cigarettes. But if you do smoke cigarettes, the earlier you can quit, the better. 
Quitting smoking benefits your heart and cardiovascular system now and in the future:

  • Twenty minutes after you quit smoking, your heart rate drops.8
  • Just 12 hours after quitting smoking, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal, allowing more oxygen to vital organs like your heart.8
  • Within four years of quitting, your risk of stroke drops to that of lifetime nonsmokers.9

How Can I Quit Smoking to Protect My Heart? 

Although quitting smoking is difficult, it is achievable. 

FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) may be able to help you on your quit journey. NRTs are proven safe and effective to help you quit smoking by delivering measured amounts of nicotine without the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke.

Many people who smoke find that FDA-approved NRTs helps them get through the first steps of quitting by reducing cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. 

If you smoke cigarettes and are concerned about your heart and cardiovascular health, consult with your health care provider about NRTs or other ways to quit to help protect your heart.

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