Diseases caused by smoking kill more than 437,900 people in the United States each year. Around 35 percent of these deaths were cardiovascular related. Even with anti-smoking campaigns and medical disclaimers in place, many people continue to smoke or start smoking every year. According to the American Cancer Society, 90 percent of new smokers are children and teenagers.

Smoking has been classified as the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, eliminating smoking not only reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, but also reduces the risk of repeat heart attacks and death by heart disease by 50 percent. Research also indicates that smoking cessation is crucial to the management of many conditions: heart attack, atherosclerosis, thrombosis, coronary artery disease, and cardiac arrhythmias.

Smokers not only have increased risk of lung disease, including lung cancer and emphysema, but also have increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and oral cancer. Facts about smoking and cardiovascular disease:

  • One out of every five smoking-related deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease
  • Cigarette smoking produces a greater risk for coronary heart disease in people younger than 50 years
  • Women over the age of 35 who smoke and take oral contraceptives are at much greater risk for developing a cardiovascular disease or stroke than women who do not smoke while taking oral contraceptives

Smoking poses the following health risks to the cardiovascular system:

  • Causes immediate and long-term increases in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduces cardiac output and coronary blood flow
  • Reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body's tissues
  • Changes the properties of blood vessels and blood cells - allowing cholesterol and other fatty substances to build up
  • Contributes to higher blood pressure and increased risk of blood clot formation
  • Damages blood vessels
  • Doubles the risk of ischemic stroke (reduced blood flow to the brain)

In addition, smoking has been associated with depression and psychological distress.

Secondhand Smoke

Estimates from the American Heart Association indicate that approximately 35,000 people die each year from heart and blood vessel disease caused by secondhand smoke -- that exhaled by smokers and/or smoke emitted from the burning end of a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe.

Both direct and indirect smoking exposure poses significant health hazards to pregnant women, infants, and young children. Children and infants exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to experience ear infections and asthma, and are at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than children and infants without the same exposure.

The following common symptoms may be associated with exposure to secondhand smoke may include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Coughing
  • Excessive phlegm (mucus in the airways)
  • Chest discomfort from lung irritation
  • Chest pain, which may indicate heart disease

The symptoms of secondhand smoke may resemble other medical conditions and problems. Always consult a physician for a diagnosis.

Tips to Quit Smoking

To quit smoking is both a mental and a physical undertaking. A person trying to quit must overcome two obstacles: a physical addition to nicotine and a habit. The American Academy of Otolaryngology and the American Lung Association offer the following tips to help users quit using tobacco products:

  • Think about why you want to quit
  • Pick a stress-free time to quit
  • Ask for support and encouragement from family, friends, and colleagues
  • Start doing some exercise or activity each day to relieve stress and improve your health
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Join a smoking cessation program, or other support group

In some cases, smokers benefit from nicotine replacement products to help break their smoking habit. Nicotine replacement products continue to give smokers nicotine to meet their nicotine craving. However, the benefit of nicotine replacement products is the elimination of tars and poisonous gases that cigarettes emit. Pregnant or nursing women and people with other medical conditions should consult with their physician before using any nicotine replacement products. Some examples of nicotine replacement products include:

  • Nicotine chewing gum - an over-the-counter chewing gum that releases small amounts of nicotine to help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms
  • Nicotine patch - an over-the-counter patch applied to the upper body once a day that releases a steady dosage of nicotine to help reduce the urge to smoke
  • Nicotine inhaler or nasal spray - a prescription nicotine replacement product that releases nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms (requires a physician's approval before use)
  • A non-nicotine option to quit smoking

Additionally, medications for smoking cessation are available. You can discuss this option further with your health care provider.

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