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Cigarette smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable death. Almost 20 percent of all deaths in the United States are related to smoking. One third of these deaths are related to cardiovascular disease. The Surgeon General has called smoking "the most important of the known modifiable risk factors for coronary heart disease in the United States."

Smoke makes your heart beat faster, raises blood pressure, reduces blood flow by constricting the blood vessels, increases carbon monoxide (which robs your heart and other tissues of oxygen), decreases exercise tolerance, increases the tendency for blood to clot, decreases the HDL (good) cholesterol, and may damage the internal protective lining of blood vessels.

Women's Smoking Risks

Cigarette smoking produces a greater relative risk in people under age 50 than in those over 50. A woman who smokes is twice as likely as a nonsmoking woman to have a heart attack. Any smoker who has a heart attack is more likely than a nonsmoker to die from it and two to four times more likely to die suddenly. Following bypass surgery smoking can cause the new bypass grafts to close off within three to five years.

When you stop smoking, your risk of cardiovascular disease decreases significantly within a year. After ten years, your risk is about the same as a non-smoker.

There are medications, nicotine replacement therapies, and smoking cessation programs to aid those wanting to quit. Ask your doctor about treatments that can help.

Secondhand Smoke

Smoke from someone else's cigarette is a significant health hazard. The risk of death due to heart disease is increased by about 30 percent among people exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home. This risk may be higher in the workplace or in areas where exposure is more potent. Secondhand smoke acutely affects heart function and produces adverse effects on the exercise performance of healthy people.

About 50 percent of all children live in homes with at least one smoker. Up to 50 million nonsmoking adults are exposed to second hand smoke. More than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 40 carcinogens, are contained in environmental tobacco smoke. Such smoke can persist indoors for hours. In many homes, ventilation of smoke to the outside is minimal.

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