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Stop Smoking for a Healthier Heart

How to talk to patients with cardiac disease about the benefits of quitting

February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about the risk factors of heart disease and educate people on how to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. An important piece of this awareness campaign focuses on the impact of tobacco use on heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. with 1 in 5 people (700,000) dying yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 20% of these deaths are caused by smoking. Furthermore, regular exposure to secondhand smoke increases the chances of developing coronary artery disease by 25 to 30% and increases the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

Smokers are up to 4x more likely to develop heart disease or to have a stroke, compared to nonsmokers. Quitting smoking is the single most preventable cause of heart disease.

Quitting smoking or the use of other tobacco products is the single most important thing patients can do to improve their heart disease outcomes. Supporting these patients with FDA-approved smoking cessation medications and behavioral counseling will increase their chances of quitting.

I often encounter patients in my own practice in the hospital or in clinic who have recently experienced a heart attack, stroke, or have a new heart failure diagnosis. Speaking to them about quitting tobacco with a personalized message relating to their current cardiovascular issue can really increase their motivation to quit.

Below are a few risks and benefits to share with patients dealing with heart disease or those who are worried about their cardiovascular health. To dive more deeply into the pathophysiology of heart disease and tobacco use, click here to read more.

Risks of Heart Disease with Tobacco Use:

  • When inhaled as smoke, ingested, or burned nearby, chemicals in tobacco enter the bloodstream, damaging the heart, and thickening and narrowing blood vessels.

  • Tobacco use can lead to heart attacks, coronary artery disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, heart failure, arrhythmias, aneurysms, and erectile dysfunction.

  • Tobacco use increases blood pressure and heart rate.

  • Those who smoke are more likely to develop blood clots.

  • Tobacco use raises triglycerides and lowers good cholesterol.

Cardiovascular Benefits of Quitting Smoking:

  • 20 minutes after quitting, blood pressure drops and heart rate normalizes.

  • 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood normalizes, allowing more oxygen to get to vital organs, such as the heart and brain.

  • In 24 hours, your heart attack risk decreases.

  • Within 1 year, the risk of developing coronary artery disease is cut in half.

  • Within 5 years, the risk of stroke drops back to the level of a nonsmoker.

  • Within 15 years, the risk of developing coronary artery disease is back to the level of a nonsmoker.

For more great content on speaking to patients about the impact of smoking on health and evidence-based treatments for helping them quit, check out our upcoming Duke-UNC virtual Comprehensive Tobacco Treatment Specialist training.

About the Author

Rachael Joyner is a family nurse practitioner with the Duke Smoking Cessation Program. She holds a National Certificate in Tobacco Treatment Practice and received her Doctorate in Nursing Practice from the University of Florida. She loves working collaboratively with patients to help them become tobacco free.


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