Cigarette smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to die from heart disease, an Australian study has found.
The research, spearheaded by Emily Banks, a professor at Australian National University, also revealed that at least 17 Australian smokers per day die of preventable heart attacks linked to their tobacco use.
“Our study shows that a population almost twice the size of Port Douglas is being wiped out in Australia each year, with smoking causing more than 6,400 cardiovascular deaths, including from heart attack and stroke,” Banks said in a release.
There are some 2.7 million active smokers in Australia today, but Banks and her colleagues at the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health focused on a subset of 190,000 smokers and non-smokers for their study. They tracked the cardiovascular health of participants for more than seven years, considering 36 different types of CVD including MI, stroke, heart failure, heart muscle disease, arrhythmias and gangrene.
Study participants logged 11,400 hospitalizations for coronary heart conditions over the study period, averaging 31 admissions per day. Banks said that if a smoker experiences MI or stroke, it’s more likely than not the event was caused by smoking.
The authors reported smokers in their study saw around triple the risk of dying from CVD compared to people who had never smoked, and double the risk of MI, stroke or heart failure. They were also five times more likely to develop peripheral CV diseases like gangrene.
There was a strong link between CVD and smoking even in subjects considered “light smokers”—those who smoked an average of five cigarettes per day. Banks said people tend to underestimate the risks of light smoking, and she and her colleagues’ study found light smokers were still twice as likely to die from CVD as their heavier-use counterparts.
“This study really reinforces how important it is to prioritize quitting,” Sarah White, director of Quit Victoria, said in the release. “Quitting at any age provides a whole host of health and other benefits, and quitting by age 45 avoids about 90% of the cardiovascular risks of smoking.
“If you are a light or social smoker who thinks ‘just a few’ won’t hurt, this study really shows you’re kidding yourself that it’s not doing damage.”
John Kelly, CEO of the Heart Foundation, agreed, calling Banks et al.’s new evidence “disturbing.” He said the Heart Foundation is hoping tobacco control features heavily in the Australian Minister for Health’s recently announced prevention plan.
“We found there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” Banks said. “Smoking causes terrible harm across the board.”