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Smoking, both active and passive, is very harmful to our health. This is why the addiction it engenders makes it all the more dangerous. Smoking is the world’s leading cause of preventable death and is therefore a major public health concern.

It is responsible for a multitude of harms (bad breath, loss of taste and smell, early and pronounced wrinkles, yellowing of teeth and fingers, chronic cough or bronchitis, and cancers of several types). But probably the most serious danger of smoking is the very strong tendency to thicken the walls of the arteries, especially the arteries that carry blood to the heart and brain. This thickening is responsible for heart attacks and strokes, which occur mostly in young people.

In other words, smoking is a major cardiovascular risk factor:

  • Rates of heart disease are 70% higher in smokers than in non-smokers;
  • Smokers are 2 to 3 times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers;
  • Almost 30% of heart attacks are caused by smoking;
  • Smokers are three times more likely to have a stroke (the result of a ruptured or blocked vessel that carries blood to the brain) than non-smokers;
  • Angina pectoris and arteritis of the lower limbs are also frequently encountered in smokers.

Moreover, smoking, like all risk factors, is even more aggressive when combined with others. For example, smokers with slightly elevated blood pressure and blood cholesterol are 8 times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers with normal blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

Nicotine and carbon monoxide are the main contributors to the adverse cardiovascular effects of smoking. From the first puff, nicotine increases blood pressure and heart rate, while carbon monoxide contributes to a decrease in blood oxygenation. And it takes 20 minutes after the last puff for blood pressure and heart rate to return to normal. As for carbon monoxide, 8 hours after the last puff, its level in the blood will only have decreased by half. In fact, the regular smoker is an intermittent hypertensive and a permanent semi-asphyxiate, two situations that the cardiovascular system does not appreciate when the situation is repeated day after day. And since nicotine is a hard drug (it is one of the most addictive drugs), it is not surprising that smokers have an increased risk of atherosclerosis and its main complications, heart attacks, arteritis of the lower limbs and strokes.

Some figures

Tobacco kills nearly 5 million people worldwide every year. In Belgium, almost 20,000 deaths per year (55 deaths per day) are directly attributable to tobacco, a quarter of which are due to cardiovascular diseases. These figures are not acceptable.

This situation is all the more distressing because stopping smoking can significantly and permanently reduce the risk. One year after the last cigarette, the risk of stroke has returned to that of a non-smoker. Within two years, the risk of heart attack is reduced by 50% and after ten years without smoking, the life expectancy of the ex-smoker becomes identical to that of a person who has never smoked.

In 2019, almost one in four Belgians over 15 years old still smokes every day. It should also be noted that by smoking, smokers contaminate those around them, and their children may in turn fall into the tobacco trap.