Heart Disease Deaths From Tobacco Use Are On The Rise
Tobacco products increase the risk of coronary heart disease

Over the past two decades, the number of coronary heart disease deaths resulting from tobacco consumption has risen by 10,000 new deaths every year, warned WHO spokesperson Jaimie Guerra, in an interview with Health Policy Watch. 

Tobacco consumption in all its forms increases the risks of developing coronary heart disease, warns a new brief published by the World Health Organization, World Heart Federation and Australia’s University of Newcastle on Tuesday.

Yet most adults are woefully unaware of the link between heart disease and tobacco use, says the brief. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for 9.4 million deaths a year – or almost 17% of the 56 million annual deaths around the globe.

In China, 60-70% of adults are unaware that smoking causes strokes or heart attacks, even though a whopping 20% of coronary heart disease deaths – or 2 million deaths – are due to tobacco and second-hand smoke, says the brief, which was published just a week ahead of World Heart Day.

Just one cigarette a day can increase the risk of heart disease

Consuming just one cigarette a day can increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), warns the report. In one BMJ study, people that smoked one cigarette a day were half as likely to develop CHD, in comparison to those that smoked over 20 cigarettes a day.

The WHO recommends a multi-sectoral approach to address these worrying trends. These range from tobacco taxation, anti-tobacco media campaigns, smoke free public-places, to enhanced primary care as well as smoking cessation interventions. 

Often, people with coronary heart disease (CHD) are unaware of their condition until they suffer a heart attack, which can be fatal or result in serious heart damage. 

The findings come on the heels of recent reports from the WHO that found tobacco smoke, heart disease and high blood pressure heighten the risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease. 

According to several meta-analyses reviewed by the WHO, smoking could even double the risk of severe COVID-19. Meanwhile, in Spain, over two-thirds of those that died from the coronavirus had high blood pressure, which is also a driver of coronary heart disease.

Benefits of Tobacco Abstinence Are Almost Immediate
The benefits of quitting tobacco are almost immediate

The benefits of quitting tobacco are almost immediate, notes the WHO. Within 20 minutes of abstinence, a smoker’s heart rate and blood pressure can drop, and within 12 hours, toxic carbon monoxide in the blood reduces, says the WHO.

And a year of abstinence can halve a person’s risk of developing CHD, although up to 15 years are required for smokers to further reduce their risk of CHD to that of a non-smoker, says the brief. 

“Just a few cigarettes a day, occasional smoking, or exposure to second-hand smoke increase the risk of heart disease,” said the WHO on Tuesday in a press release. “But if tobacco users take immediate action and quit, then their risk of heart disease will decrease by 50% after one year of not smoking.

Second-Hand Smoke “Nearly” As Harmful To The Heart As Smoking Itself
All tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, increase the risk of heart disease

Exposure to second-hand smoke is ‘nearly’ as damaging to the heart as the effects of smoking itself, where one hour of second-hand smoke is sufficient to increase the risk of heart attack, notes the WHO. 

According to the Global Burden of Disease study in 2017, adults that were exposed to second-hand smoke were almost a third as likely of developing CHD, compared to people unexposed to harmful second-hand smoke.

The heart-related effects of second-hand smoke exposure are nearly as great as the effects of smoking itself,” said the brief. “Exposure to second-hand smoke for as little as one hour can damage the inner layer of the coronary arteries, which increases the risk of heart attack.”

The brief also warns against smokeless tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery systems like ‘e-cigarettes’ and ‘e-vapes’ – which also increase the risk of heart disease. Smokeless tobacco, for instance, accounts for 204,000 CHD deaths in 2010, according to data from more than 100 countries. 

And while electronic nicotine delivery systems may be less harmful than smokable products, they still contribute to CHD, warns the report. Electronic nicotine delivery systems contain toxic metals like cadmium and nickel, which damage the heart and contribute to high blood pressure.

Image Credits: Chris Vaughan, WHO AFRO, WHO, WHO.

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