Years of Heavy Smoking Raises Heart Risks

FRIDAY May 15, 2009 -- Highlighting the negative impact tobacco use has on cardiovascular health, researchers say that heavy smokers were 2.5 times more likely to die than their non-smoking peers during a 30-year study in Norway.

The newly available research found that nonsmokers lived longer and experienced fewer incidents of heart attack and cardiovascular disease than smokers, especially when compared with heavy smokers (those who lit up at least 20 cigarettes a day).

Smokers were also at greater risk of developing diabetes and strokes than nonsmokers, according to the study findings, presented last week at the EuroPRevent 2009 conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

"What these results show is the cumulative long-term association between smoking and death and cardiovascular risk," investigator Haakon Meyer, a professor at the University of Oslo and Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said in a news release issued by the European Society of Cardiology. "Around two-thirds of the middle-aged heavy-smoking men and half the heavy-smoking women had died or had a cardiovascular disease within the next 30 years. The incidence was much lower in never-smokers and reflects the tremendously adverse effect of smoking on health and longevity. The difference in outcome between the never-smokers and heavy smokers was substantial."

The study began in 1974 with 54,075 middle-aged Norwegian men and women agreeing to take part in a basic cardiovascular examination. By matching the participants to population records over the next three decades, the researchers recorded 13,103 deaths, then followed-up on the living participants with a questionnaire during the mid-2000s.

The team found that 45 percent of males considered to be heavy smokers had died during the study period compared with 18 percent of the men who never smoked; among the women, 33 percent of heavy smokers died while 13 percent of the non-smoking women did.

"These results show what a tremendous impact smoking has on mortality," Meyer said. "We are talking about very high numbers of people."

The questionnaire responses revealed that 21 percent of the heavy-smoking men had experienced a heart attack compared with 10 percent of their non-smoking peers. For women, the rate was similar: 11 percent among the heavy-smoking female survivors and 4 percent among those who never smoked.

"This study underlines the public health messages about smoking. We have seen declines in the prevalence of smoking in developed countries, but challenges still remain. Certain population groups -- young women, immigrant communities -- still have high rates of smoking, and there's more to be done here."

More information

The American Heart Association has more about how smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Posted: May 2009


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