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Coronary heart disease and strokes are the leading and third leading causes of death in the United States. Heart disease and stroke are both primary types of cardiovascular disease caused by tobacco use. People who stop tobacco use can cut their risk of having another heart attack or dying of heart disease in half. The risk of stroke decreases steadily after quitting smoking. Former smokers have the same stroke risk as nonsmokers after five to 15 years of quitting. Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of heart disease in the United States.

Cigarette Smoking and Mortality

In the United States, cigarette smoking is responsible for about one in five deaths annually, or about 438,000 deaths (259,500 men and 178,000 women), or about 1 of every 5 deaths, each year.

What is the connection between smoking and heart disease and stroke?

  • Smoking causes coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
  • In 2006, 26,932 people died from heart disease, more than 26 percent of all deaths in Illinois that year.
  • Cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers.
  • Cigarette smoking approximately doubles a person's risk for stroke.
  • Cigarette smoking causes reduced circulation by narrowing the blood vessels (arteries).
  • Smokers are more than 10 times as likely as nonsmokers to develop peripheral vascular disease.
  • Smoking causes abdominal aortic aneurysm.
  • Smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
  • Smoking temporarily raises blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot.
  • Smoking increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.
  • Smokers tend to have higher concentrations of total low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein and decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
  • Smoking increases oxygen demand while reducing oxygen-delivering capacity.

Does smokeless tobacco also cause heart disease?

Yes!  Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of high blood pressure which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Smokeless tobacco also increases the chances of cardiovascular stroke. The risk of dying from major tobacco-related diseases is higher among former cigarette smokers who switched to spit tobacco after they stopped smoking than among those who quit using tobacco entirely.

Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

What about secondhand smoke?

In the United States, each year an estimated 36,000 nonsmokers die from coronary heart disease (CHD) because of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke affects the normal operation of the heart, blood and vascular systems and can increase the risk of a cardiac event. Short-term exposure can have immediate negative effects in platelet and vascular functions. Some evidence indicates lower levels of circulating antioxidants associated with secondhand smoke exposure. The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report on Secondhand Smoke indicates a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease from exposure to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can have harmful consequences on the heart, blood, and blood vessels.

I’ve smoked for most of my life. Is it worth it to quit now?

YES! There are immediate benefits of quitting smoking including decrease in blood pressure, a lowered pulse rate, increased oxygen level in the blood and a decreased blood carbon monoxide level.  After two weeks of abstinence, circulation to the extremities improves, blood pressure remains lower, and lung function improves.

Long-term benefits also may motivate smokers to quit. One year after quitting, nearly half reduce the risk of developing symptomatic coronary artery disease (e.g., angina) compared to those who continue to smoke. After five years of abstinence, the risk of stroke is reduced, approaching that of people who have never smoked.

Most people want to quit smoking. According to the 2007 Illinois Adult Tobacco Survey, 78.2 percent of Illinois residents agree there is a health benefit to quitting smoking. More than 63 percent of Illinois smokers are considering stopping smoking within the next six months, and almost half (47 percent) are planning to stop smoking within the next 30 days.

Will quitting cause me to gain weight?

Four out of five people who quit smoking gain a small amount of weight.  The average is about 5 pounds.  Some of this weight gain is due to a temporary increase in appetite caused by nicotine withdrawal that usually goes away within a few weeks or months after quitting.

Most ex-smokers have higher levels of exercise endurance, improved cardiovascular functioning, and more energy than they did while they were smokers.  Studies indicate that beginning an exercise program for a few weeks before attempting to quit, and maintaining exercise after successfully quitting, can help to prevent both weight gain and relapse.

Quitting smoking can reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

Illinois Tobacco Quitline

"The Illinois Department of Public Health funds the American Lung Association of Illinois/Iowa to operate the Illinois Tobacco Quitline (ITQ). The ITQ is staffed by registered nurses, registered respiratory therapists and smoking cessation counselors." The ITQ can help cigarette, cigar and pipe smokers, as well as smokeless tobacco users. Calls are answered as they are received. The ITQ counselors answer calls between the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. At other times, callers may leave a voice message and ITQ counselors will return the call no later than the next business day. Quitline staff never rush a call. They are available to offer the encouragement and support the caller needs throughout the quitting process.

Other Resources

American Heart Association


American Lung Association


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Cardiovascular Health Program

Tobacco Burden in Illinois

TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466