Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States.: Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death -- smokers have two to four times the risk of nonsmokers. Studies have shown cigarette smoking to be an important risk factor for stroke.

Smoking makes your heart beat faster, harder, and irregularly -and decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood. It produces a greater relative risk in persons under 50 than in those over 50. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptives. Even second-hand smoke can be a major risk factor. Continual exposure to second hand smoke nearly doubles a person's risk of having a heart attack.

  • Smoking accounts for about 1/5 of all deaths from heart disease in the United States - about 400,000 each year
  • Most of these deaths (90,000) are related to atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease) -- the arteries that supply blood to the heart become severely narrowed, decreasing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

Inhaling tobacco smoke causes immediate, negative effects on the heart and blood vessels:

  • Decreased oxygen to the heart
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased fatty build-up in arteries
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of lung problems
  • Increased risk of developing heart disease
  • Increase in blood clotting
  • Increased risk of becoming sick (especially among children: respiratory infections are more common among children exposed to second-hand smoke)
  • Damage to cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
  • Earlier menopause in women

Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes are the six major independent risk factors for coronary heart disease that you can modify or control. Cigarette smoking is so widespread and significant as a risk factor that the Surgeon General has called it "the most important of the known modifiable risk factors for coronary heart disease in the United States."

People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease (and possibly stroke), but their risk isn't as great as cigarette smokers. This is probably because they're less likely to inhale the smoke. Currently, there's very little scientific information on cigar and pipe smoking and cardiovascular disease.

Smoking increases coronary artery disease risk by:

  • Increasing levels of free fatty acids in the blood stream
  • Decreases exercise tolerance
  • Increases tendency for blood to clot
  • Damaging the coronary artery lining, making it an attractive site for blood fats and platelets to accumulate, which encourages the process of atherosclerosis.
  • Increases blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease
  • Exerting a negative effect on the heart. Carbon monoxide, an ingredient of cigarette smoke, limits the blood's ability to carry oxygen.
  • Increases LDL ("bad") cholesterol and decreases HDL ("good") cholesterol.

By quitting smoking, you will:

  • Prolong your life
  • Reduce your risk of disease (including heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, lung cancer, throat cancer, emphysema, ulcers, gum disease and other conditions.)
  • Feel healthier (After quitting, you won't cough as much, have as many sore throats and you will increase your stamina.)
  • Look better (Quitting can help you prevent face wrinkles, get rid of stained teeth and improve your skin.)
  • Improve your sense of taste and smell
  • Save money