Smoking and Heart Disease

You probably know that cigarette smoking causes breathing problems and lung cancer. But did you know it also makes you more likely to have a heart attack?

Every cigarette you smoke makes you more likely to get heart disease. Roughly 1 out of 5 deaths from heart disease is directly related to smoking.

People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease. The risk is even greater for women who smoke and also take birth control pills.

Cigarette smoke is also bad for the people around you. Secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in people who don’t smoke.

How Does Smoking Cause Heart Disease?

The nicotine in smoke:

  • Reduces how much oxygen your heart gets
  • Raises your blood pressure
  • Speeds up your heart rate
  • Makes blood clots more likely, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes
  • Harms the insides of your blood vessels, including those in your heart

How Does Quitting Smoking Help?

Soon after you stop, your odds of getting heart disease or high blood pressure will drop. After 1 to 2 years of not smoking, you’ll be much less likely to get heart disease.

Of course, kicking the habit also makes you less likely to get lung cancer and many other types of cancer, emphysema, and many other serious conditions.

The bottom line: Odds are you’ll live longer, and you’ll feel better.

How to Quit Smoking

It helps to plan ahead. Set a date to stop smoking and then stick to it.

Write down your reasons for quitting smoking. Read over the list every day, before and after you quit.

Keep a record of when you smoke, why you smoke, and what you’re doing when you smoke. You’ll learn what triggers you to smoke.

You may want to first stop smoking cigarettes in certain situations, such as during your work break or after dinner, before actually quitting.

Make a list of things you can do instead of smoking. Be ready to do something else when you want to smoke.

Ask your doctor about medication or about using nicotine gum or patches. Some people find these aids helpful. For some, you’ll need a doctor’s prescription. Others are available over the counter, which means you don’t need a prescription.

Join a smoking cessation support group or program. Call your local chapter of the American Lung Association. Let family and friends know that you are quitting, and ask for their support. 

How Can I Avoid Smoking Again?

Don’t carry a lighter, matches, or cigarettes. Keep all of these smoking reminders out of sight.

If you live with someone who smokes, ask them not to smoke around you, or better yet, to quit with you.

Don’t focus on what you’re missing. Think about the healthier way of life you’re gaining.

When you get the urge to smoke, take a deep breath. Hold it for up to 10 seconds and exhale slowly. Repeat this several times until the urge to smoke passes.

Keep your hands busy. Doodle, play with a pencil or straw, or work on a computer.

Change activities that were connected to smoking cigarettes. Take a walk or read a book instead of taking a cigarette break.

When you can, avoid places, people, and situations associated with smoking. Hang out with people who don’t smoke. Go to places that don’t allow smoking, such as the movies, museums, shops, or libraries.

Don’t substitute food or sugar-based products for cigarette smoking. Eat low-calorie, good-for-you foods (such as carrot or celery sticks, sugar-free hard candies) or chew gum when the urge to smoke strikes so you can avoid weight gain.

Drink plenty of fluids, but limit alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. They may be triggers that make you want to smoke.

Exercise. It helps you burn off stress and relax. Consider starting a fitness program before you quit.

Get support for quitting. Tell people about your progress. Be proud of what you’re doing!

Work with your doctor to make a plan using over-the-counter nicotine-replacement aids or prescription medication.

How Will I Feel When I Quit Smoking?

It probably will be tough for a while, but it’s worth it.

You may crave cigarettes, be irritable, feel hungry, cough often, get headaches, or have trouble concentrating. These symptoms of withdrawal happen because your body is used to nicotine, the active addictive agent within cigarettes.

You’ll probably notice it most during the first 2 weeks after quitting. When it happens, remember why you’re quitting. Tell yourself that these are signs that your body is healing and getting used to being without cigarettes.

The withdrawal symptoms won’t last. They’re strongest when you first quit but will usually go away within 10 to 14 days.

You may still want to smoke, especially with certain people or during situations where you’re used to smoking. If you smoke again, start over. Most people quit three times before they’re successful. Plan ahead and think about what you’ll do next time you get the urge to smoke.


  1. American Heart Association: “Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease."
  2. CDC: “Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking."
  3. American Heart Association: “Understand Your Risk of Heart Attack."
  4. CDC: “Smoking Cessation."
  5. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What Are the Benefits of Quitting Smoking?"
  6. CDC: “Smoking & Tobacco Use: Heart Disease and Stroke."
  7. “Have You Built a Quit Plan?"

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