How does smoking increase my risk of heart and circulatory diseases?
Smoking cigarettes makes the walls of your arteries sticky from the chemicals, so fatty material can stick to them. If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. If this happens in the arteries that carry blood to your brain it can lead to a stroke.
What harmful chemicals are found in cigarettes?
The chemicals in cigarettes affect your body while you’re smoking and after the cigarette is finished. Some of the harmful chemicals in cigarettes include:
This is a poisonous gas that you breathe in when you smoke cigarettes. It prevents your blood cells from carrying oxygen around your body as well as they should. Having high levels of carbon monoxide in your blood greatly increases your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.
This is also found in cigarette smoke and can cause cancer. When you breathe it in, 70% of the tar stays in your lungs and damages them. Cigarettes labelled ‘light’, ‘mild’ or ‘low tar’ are misleading – all cigarettes are bad for your health.
This is the addictive chemical found in cigarettes and most e-cigarette products. It increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure permanently damages your arteries and your heart.
Are smoking alternatives less harmful than cigarettes?
Not all cigarette alternatives are created equal – some are worse for your health than others. Make sure you know how your habit is impacting your health.
E-cigarettes (also known as vapes) are devices that allow you to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke. They’ve been shown to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, as they don’t contain tobacco and don’t produce tar or carbon monoxide. However, e-cigarettes can still be addictive because the liquid that’s used in them usually contains nicotine. That’s why they shouldn’t be used by non-smokers or young people.
There’s growing evidence that e-cigarettes can be useful to help you quit smoking when combined with support from Stop Smoking Services. However, more research is needed on the long-term health impacts of e-cigarettes and vaping.
Read more about the pros and cons of vaping.
Shisha (also called hookah, narghile, waterpipe, or hubble-bubble) is a way of smoking tobacco through a bowl and tube. Shisha traditionally contains cigarette tobacco, so like cigarettes it contains nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, and other harmful chemicals. During one session of shisha (around 60 minutes), you inhale the same amount of smoke as you’d get from smoking 100 or more cigarettes.
Read more about shisha and its risks on our shisha page.
Smokeless tobacco includes products that can be chewed, sucked, or inhaled (such as ‘snuff’). Smokeless tobacco is not a healthier alternative to smoking, as it can still cause cancer and other serious health problems. If you use these products you increase your risk of developing serious heart and circulatory diseases such as heart attack and stroke more than someone who doesn’t use tobacco at all.
‘Light’, ‘mild’, or ‘low-tar’ cigarettes
Cigarettes that claim to be ‘light’, ‘mild’ or ‘low-tar’, or are packaged to look healthier, are misleading. These cigarettes are still bad for your health and often just as harmful as regular cigarettes.
Why should I quit smoking?
Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. Even if you’ve smoked for years, quitting will still reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases. It’s never too late to quit. You might notice benefits sooner than you think:
- 20 minutes after you quit smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal.
- After 2–3 days your sense of smell and taste improve.
- After 2–12 weeks exercise becomes easier and your breathing improves.
- After 1 year your risk of having a heart attack is half that of a smoker.
Is second-hand smoke harmful?
Second-hand smoke (also known as passive smoke) is when you breathe in someone else’s cigarette smoke. When the people around you breathe in your cigarette smoke, it increases their chance of getting heart and circulatory diseases, cancers and breathing problems. Children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of second-hand smoke.
How to quit
If you’ve decided to quit smoking, then you’ve made a great decision for your health. It may be hard at times, but there is help available to you.
Make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse. Some pharmacies also offer stop smoking programmes. They will be able to help you find the best way to stop smoking and suggest medication or nicotine replacement therapy.
If you’re struggling to quit, pay attention to the situations that make you want to smoke. If you always smoke when you’re stressed, tired or drinking alcohol, plan ahead for these moments so you develop new ways to cope.
Even if you’ve tried and failed before, every fresh start counts.
Help and support
If you smoke and want to quit, it’s important to know you’re not alone. In fact, you’re more likely to quit for good if you have the proper support that’s right for you.
- Speak to your GP, pharmacist, or practice nurse about how to quit smoking. They can give you advice, enrol you in stop smoking clinics, and provide guidance on medication and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help you quit.
- Get support from NHS Stop Smoking Services near you or call the Smokefree National Helpline on 0300 123 1044 (England only). Support is also available in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
- Let your family and friends know that you’re quitting. Some people find that talking to friends and relatives who’ve stopped smoking can be helpful.
- Call our Heart Helpline at 0300 330 3311 to speak to one of our Cardiac Nurses. Lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (charged at a rate similar to 01 or 02 calls).
- Read tips for quitting smoking in this Heart Matters article.