Tobacco use to blame for 20% of heart disease deaths, WHO says

If tobacco users quit smoking, their excess risk of heart disease can drop by 50% after a year of non-smoking

Each year there are about 1.9 million avoidable deaths from tobacco-induced heart disease, per a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The figure translates to around one-fifth of all deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) globally, which occurs when plaque builds within coronary arteries, reduces blood flow to the heart and can result in a heart attack.

This is a slow process and many are unaware of their condition until they have a heart attack, per the WHO. CHD is brought on by a number of risk factors including tobacco use, alcohol abuse, poor diet and physical inactivity. Resulting conditions such as diabetes and obesity raise the risk for heart disease.

Each year there are about 1.9 million avoidable deaths from tobacco-induced heart disease, per a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). (iStock)

Each year there are about 1.9 million avoidable deaths from tobacco-induced heart disease, per a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). (iStock)

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“Tobacco smokers are more likely to experience an acute cardiovascular event at a younger age,” the WHO wrote, adding that just one hour of secondhand smoke can harm the cardiovascular system.

If tobacco users quit smoking, their excess risk of heart disease can drop by 50% after a year of non-smoking.

“After 15 years of quitting, the risk of heart disease is similar to that of a never-smoker,” the agency wrote.

“Given the current level of evidence on tobacco and cardiovascular health and the health benefits of quitting smoking, failing to offer cessation services to patients with heart disease could be considered clinical malpractice or negligence,” Dr. Eduardo Bianco, chair of the World Heart Federation Tobacco Expert Group, said in a news release.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, those with high blood pressure and heart disease have worse outcomes from COVID-19. A previous WHO survey said among those succumbing to COVID-19 in Italy, 67% had high blood pressure and while 43% of people in Spain who developed COVID-19 were living with heart disease.

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Studies on smokeless tobacco are more recent and less consistent, and the WHO report called for more research to examine the relationship between smokeless tobacco use and risk of cardiac disease, fatal or otherwise, across the world. The report cited data from 2015, estimating that 204,000 deaths are associated with smokeless tobacco use.

“Smokers should respect smoke-free policies, and everyone should support friends, family members and colleagues who want to quit smoking or tobacco use,” the WHO wrote. In adults who use tobacco, a combination of behavioural interventions plus pharmacotherapy is recommended by health professionals to maximize quit rates. Non-smokers should demand smoke-free legislation for all enclosed public places and ensure that they are not exposed to SHS at home, at work or in indoor public places.”

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