Smoking: A Habit to Kick for Life

Heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease more common in smokers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) If you need another reason to quit smoking, keep reading. New evidence supports past findings that smokers face a raised risk for many health problems.

A new study found that most smokers would die of smoking-related causes like cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. Although these findings are not really new, this is a large study that confirms past findings from other studies.

This Australian study also found that the longer a person smoked, the more likely he or she was to die of smoking-related causes. The good news is that quitting can begin to reverse the negative health effects immediately.

"We knew smoking was bad but we now have direct independent evidence that confirms the disturbing findings that have been emerging internationally,” said lead author Emily Banks, PhD, scientific director of the Sax Institute's 45 and Up Study and a researcher at the Australian National University, in a press release.

Dr. Banks added, "Even with the very low rates of smoking that we have in Australia we found that smokers have around three-fold the risk of premature death of those who have never smoked. We also found smokers will die an estimated 10 years earlier than non-smokers."

David Winter, MD, chief clinical officer, president and chairman of the board of HealthTexas Provider Network, a division of Baylor Health Care System, told dailyRx News that this study was a strong reminder of the health dangers of smoking.

“This study reminds us that smoking is hazardous to one’s health," Dr. Winter said. "Death rates are three times those of non-smokers, and the average decrease in life span is 10 years compared to those who do not smoke. Smoking cessation programs do help including medication, both prescribed and over the counter."

Dr. Banks and team used data from an ongoing study called the 45 and Up Study.

Although Australia has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world, 13 percent of its population still smokes. These researchers looked at the cause of death for people in the study who reported that they were smokers.

Dr. Banks and colleagues excluded people from the study if they reported already having a diagnosis of heart disease, cancer or other smoking-related conditions.

The final group included more than 200,000 men and women who smoked only cigarettes, only pipes and cigars or both. Most of these smokers had smoked for 35 years or more.

Dr. Banks and team found that smoking just 10 cigarettes a day doubled the risk of dying for smokers in comparison to nonsmokers. A person who smoked a pack a day had four to five times the risk of a nonsmoker.

Smokers died an average of 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. Two-thirds of the smokers died from medical conditions or diseases caused by smoking.

The study findings may sound discouraging, but there may be hope.

When a smoker quits, the positive benefits begin immediately, according to the American Cancer Society. Within 20 minutes, heart rate and blood pressure drop.

Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal. Two weeks to three months after quitting, circulation and lung function improve.

At the one-year point after quitting, a former smoker’s risk of heart disease is half that of someone who continues to smoke. And the benefits may continue to accumulate over the years.

Quitting isn’t easy, but there’s help. Smoking cessation classes are available in most communities.

Major organizations like the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and the National Cancer institute offer 24-hour hotlines where smokers who want to quit can get information. Doctors can help by recommending counseling or prescribing medications.

This study was published Feb. 24 in the journal BMC Medicine.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia, in collaboration with 45 and Up Study partner Cancer Council NSW, funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 25, 2015
Last Updated:
February 26, 2015