Just one cigarette a day increases heart disease risk
On No Smoking Day (14 March), many smokers will try to cut down – but experts have warned that stopping altogether is the only way to reduce the risk of smoking-related heart disease.
A study has found that smoking just one cigarette a day carries a much greater risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke than expected; backing up NHS advice that no safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease link
It has long been known that one of the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes is heart disease. And previous studies have found that smoking only five cigarettes a day is associated with a higher risk of the condition.
A team of researchers at University College London have now looked at the difference in risk between smoking one, five or 20 cigarettes a day, by analysing the results of 141 previous studies.
Reducing the amount of cigarettes smoked might be expected to reduce health risks in a proportionate way – that is, that smoking one instead of 20 cigarettes per day would have about one-twentieth (5%) of the risk.
However, this study revealed that people who smoke one cigarette each day have about 40–50% of the excess risk of coronary heart disease and stroke associated with smoking 20 cigarettes per day.
In addition, women who smoke one cigarette per day have a 57% higher risk of heart disease than those who have never smoked, and a 31% higher risk of stroke. In men, these figures are 48% for heart disease and 25% for stroke.
Heart disease is the biggest risk associated with smoking – even more so than cancer. It causes around 48% of smoking-related premature deaths. According to the British Heart Foundation, the single best thing that you can do for your heart health is to quit smoking.
Smoking damages the lining of the arteries, which leads to the build-up of fatty material, narrowing the arteries and causing angina, a heart attack or a stroke. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke also reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, which means the heart has to work harder.
No safe level
The authors of this study conclude that: “We show clearly that no safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease at which light smokers can assume that continuing to smoke does not lead to harm.
“Smokers need to quit completely rather than cut down if they wish to avoid most of the risk associated with heart disease and stroke, two common and major disorders caused by smoking.”
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