Tobacco users who need more motivation to kick the habit should consider that they can kill two birds with one stone, reducing their risk for heart disease and reducing their footprint on the earth. And the heart you save may not just be your own but that of the people around you. About 20 percent of all deaths from heart disease in the United States are directly related to tobacco use, whether smoked or smokeless. Though there are fewer studies of cigar and pipe use, experts generally consider the risks, including an accelerated heart rate and high blood pressure, the same regardless of the tobacco product.
The World Heart Federation reports that about 25 percent of people have a gene that increases the risk of developing heart disease four-fold if they become smokers. Here are some other consequences of tobacco use:
- Nicotine in tobacco decreases oxygen to the heart; increases blood pressure and heart rate; increases the clotting of blood; and damages cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels.
- Smoking is a major indicator of increased heart attack risk for women younger than 45, and smoking in combination with the use of birth control pills increases a woman’s risk of heart attack by at least 20 times.
- The WHF reports that women who smoke are at a higher risk of heart attack than men who smoke. A woman who smokes as few as three to five cigarettes a day doubles her risk of heart attack. A man doubles his risk if he smokes six to nine cigarettes a day.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers are five times as likely to develop abdominal aortic aneurysm, a weakening or welling of the largest artery in the body running through the abdomen, as compared to non-smokers.
- Each year, an estimated 35,000 non-smokers die from heart disease caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
On the up side, those who give up tobacco are able over time to reduce their risk of heart disease almost to that of someone who never smoked. The National Institutes of Health report the following effects for those who give up tobacco:
- Within 20 minutes of quitting: The smoker’s blood pressure and pulse rate drop to normal, and the temperature of his/her hands and feet increases to normal.
- Within eight hours of quitting: Blood carbon monoxide levels drop, and blood oxygen levels increase to normal levels.
- Within 24 hours of quitting: The risk of a sudden heart attack decreases.
- Within two weeks to three months of quitting: The circulation improves, making walking easier.
- Within 1 to 9 months of quitting: The former smoker gradually no longer find himself or herself short of breath while going about everyday activities.
- Within 1 year of quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease becomes half that of someone still using tobacco.
Though many smokers likely believe they are hurting only themselves, the reality is that their habit often comes an environmental cost. For instance, when smokers are inconsiderate about where cigarette butts land, they litter the landscape. Clean up is not at the expense of the smoker or tobacco companies but paid for by communities.
And that’s only for butts that are found. In many instances, they are left to decompose, their chemicals and additives, leaching into the ground and water.
While information on the impact of cigarette manufacturing is difficult to come by, Tobaccoinaustrailia.org notes that “all phases of tobacco production have the potential to contribute to climate change, from farming to curing the leaf (which for some kinds of tobacco requires the use of heat generated by wood, oil, coal or gas), and the manufacturing process.” There are also pesticides to worry about. Land clearance and deforestation are also a concern as tobacco manufacturers make room for new crops and provide timber, which fuels heaters used to dry the tobacco leaf following harvest.