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Cigarette Smoking

Smokers run a much higher risk of developing heart disease than nonsmokers. Women smokers who use oral contraceptives are at an even greater risk than other smokers. Even though smoking just one cigarette doubles your risk, by quitting now you can reduce your risk by 50 percent the first year. And the risk will continue to decline the longer you stay away from cigarettes. Learn how to quit smoking with Norton Healthcare’s Smoking Cessation Program.  

Some important facts about the effects of smoking on your heart health from the American Heart Association.

  • About 60 percent of American children ages 4-11 are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.
  • On average, smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers. 
  • Since 1965, more than 45 percent of adults who have ever smoked have quit.

What makes cigarettes so toxic and dangerous?

There are 4,000 chemical components found in cigarettes and at least 250 of them are harmful to human health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are a few examples:

  • 1,3-Butadine is a chemical used to manufacture rubber.  According to the CDC, “it may increase risk of cancer in the stomach, blood and lymphatic system.
  • Acrolein is a gas linked to lung cancer. It inhibits DNA repair and can destroy the lining in the lungs that protects you from lung disease.
  • Arsenic is used to preserve wood.  In humans, it can cause heart disease and cancer.
  • Benzene is used to manufacture other chemicals. It can cause cancer, particularly leukemia, in humans.
  • Cadmium is a metal used to make batteries.  Cadmium can interfere with the repair of damaged DNA, as well as damage the kidneys and the lining of the arteries.
  • Chromium VI is used to make alloy metals, paint and dyes.  It has been proven to be linked to lung cancer.
  • Formaldehyde is a chemical used to kill bacteria and preserve human and animal remains.  It’s a known cause of cancer, one of the main substances linked to chronic lung disease and a very toxic ingredient in secondhand smoke.
  • Polonium-210 is a radioactive element inhaled directly into the airway.  Some studies show that people who smoke a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes a day are receiving the same radiation they’d get from 300-plus X-rays per year!
  • Tar is solid, inhaled chemicals linked with an increased risk for cancer.  It also leaves a sticky, brown residue on your lungs, teeth and fingernails.

Carbon monoxide & nicotine: A dangerous duo

Carbon monoxide is a harmful gas you inhale when you smoke.  Once in your lungs, it’s transferred to your bloodstream.  Carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen that is carried in the red blood cells.  It also increases the amount of cholesterol that is deposited into the inner lining of the arteries which, over time, can cause the arteries to harden.  This leads to heart disease, artery disease and possibly heart attack.
Nicotine is a dangerous and highly addictive chemical. It can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, flow of blood to the heart and a narrowing of the arteries (vessels that carry blood). Nicotine may also contribute to the hardening of the arterial walls, which in turn, may lead to a heart attack. This chemical can stay in your body for six to eight hours depending on how often you smoke.  Also, as with most addictive substances, there are some side effects of withdrawal.

Second-Hand Smoke

Smokers aren’t the only ones affected by tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard for nonsmokers, especially children. Environmental tobacco smoke causes about 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths. Studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25-30 percent higher among people exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home or work. Secondhand smoke promotes illness, too. Children of smokers have many more respiratory infections than do children of nonsmokers. Nonsmoking women exposed to tobacco smoke are also more likely to have low-birthweight babies. Excerpted and adapted from "When Risk Factors Unite," appearing in the Stroke Connection Magazine January/February 2005 (Science update May 2008)

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