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F.ood & H.ealth : B.iological A.gents Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Tobacco in whatever form harms the heart
By Kathy Jones
Aug 18, 2006, 10:01

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18 Aug, ( - Tobacco usage in whatever form is harmful to the heart and significantly increases the risk of heart attack, according to a large international study. The finding held true regardless of whether tobacco was smoked or chewed either firsthand or secondhand, the Canadian researchers confirmed.

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario found that any form of tobacco increased the risk of heart attack. For example in heavy smokers the risk of heart attack tripled as compared to non-smokers. In light smokers, who smoked 8-10 cigarettes a day, the risk of heart attack doubled.

The study published in the Aug. 19 issue of The Lancet, involved data from more than 27,000 people in 52 countries. The researchers took into consideration lifestyle factors like diet and age. Not surprisingly the researchers found that the risk of heart attack decreased with time after a person stopped smoking.

In light smokers the risk of heart attack dropped to normal levels in 3 to 5 years after they quit smoking, but in moderate to heavy smokers, there was a 22 percent risk of heart attack even two decades after they quit the habit.

The study by professors Salim Yusuf and Koon Teo of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton calculated the risk of heart attack for various forms of tobacco use among the global population.

One of the more startling findings was the fact that the risk of heart attack rose by 45 percent in individuals who were exposed to second hand smoke for 22 hours or more per week. "Chewing tobacco also increased the risk of a heart attack two fold, indicating that all forms of tobacco use or exposure are harmful," said Dr. Koon Teo.

People who smoke in a routine manner had a three-fold increase in heart attack risk and this risk increased by 5.6 percent for every cigarette smoked in a day. Chewing tobacco doubles the risk of heart attack, the study said, adding that both chewing and smoking quadrupled the risk of heart attacks.

People exposed to one to seven hours of secondhand-smoke exposure per week had a 24 percent increase in the risk of a heart attack, while those exposed to more than 21 hours a week of secondhand smoke exposure had a 62 percent increase in heart attacks risk.

The researchers also said that switching to a water pipe or a hookah was of no use. It still increased the risk of an adverse heart event.

The study says that there was no reduction in the heart risk even if people cut back on their smoking. This means that exposure to secondhand smoke is even more dangerous.

Last month the American Cancer Society released its Tobacco Atlas in which it said that tobacco would be the number one killer this century. . An estimated 1.25 billion people smoke cigarettes and more than half of them will die from related diseases. The atlas says that tobacco is the only consumer product that will kill more than half of its regular "customers."

Tobacco killed 100 million people last century and if the current usage statistics continue to prevail, 1 billion people will die from tobacco-related illnesses this century. If adult cigarette consumption is reduced by just 50 percent worldwide, we could avert more than 300 million needless deaths within the next 50 years, the ACS said.

Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world and is responsible for the death of one in ten adults worldwide. Half the people that smoke today (about 650 million people) will eventually be killed by tobacco. . Most of these deaths involve heart and blood vessel diseases. Smoking may cause many other diseases, such as lung problems, cancer, and stroke.

The younger a person starts smoking, the greater the risk of heart attack. Smoking is a serious problem for people who have vascular disease. Each year smoking directly accounts for 350,000 deaths.

Passive smoking or secondhand smoking is even more dangerous. . The non-smoker breathes the so-called "sidestream" smoke after the main one from burning tobacco has been inhaled by the smoker.

Around 60 chemicals present in smoke are known carcinogens or cancer-causing agents. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classed environmental tobacco smoke as a class A (known human) carcinogen.

Cited below are some of the questions and answers related to passive smoking.

What are the health risks for a passive smoker?
Some of the common immediate effects of passive smoking include eye irritation, headache, cough, sore throat, dizziness and nausea. Asthma sufferers can expect a decline in their lung function, exacerbating their problem.

Even internally, secondhand smoke causes blood cells called as platelets to become stickier. Platelets are the cells that top bleeding by helping blood to clot. When these cells become sticky, the coronary blood flow becomes sluggish and the risk of heart attacks and strokes increases.

What is the effect of passive smoking on the heart?
As mentioned, passive smoking increases the risk of heart attacks. The mechanism behind this is attributed to a chemical called cotinine, which is a biomarker of secondhand smoke exposure.

A study published in the June 2004 issue of the British Medical Journal found that the heart risks of passive smoking might be underestimated. This was because blood cotinine levels among non-smokers were associated with a 50-60 percent increased risk of heart disease.

Is secondhand smoke dangerous to children as well?
Children ate at an even greater risk for developing smoke-related illnesses. In fact most cases of childhood asthma are associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. Children exposed to secondhand smoke can develop sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma.

How can I protect myself and my family?
* Make your home and car smoke-free.
* Ask people not to smoke around you or your children.
* Make sure that your children's day-care center or school is smoke-free.
* Patronize restaurants and other businesses that are smoke-free.
* Teach children to stay away from secondhand smoke.
* Avoid secondhand smoke exposure especially if you or your children have respiratory conditions, if you have heart disease, or if you are pregnant.

Reacting to the current study, Harvard researchers Sarah A. Rosner and Meir J. Stampfer, MD, DrPH, write in an accompanying editorial that tobacco is all set to kill more people than ever before. The study by the Canadian researchers "should stimulate a redoubling of our efforts to rid the planet of the scourge of smoking."

© 2004-2005 by unless otherwise specified

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