Media Release: 4 July  2019.

Smoking is not just bad for your lungs: it causes untold damage to the heart and major blood vessels and triples the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a major new study based on data from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study.

Smoking causes untold damage to the heart and major blood vessels and triples the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.Even what many might consider “light” smoking causes significant harm to the heart, say the researchers led by Professor Emily Banks, Senior Adviser at the Sax Institute and Professor of Epidemiology at the Australian National University. People smoking an average of just five cigarettes a day have around double the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease compared with those who have never smoked, the researchers found.

Overall, current smokers have double the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure, and triple the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared with people who have never smoked, the study found. The risk of peripheral vascular disease, which can cause gangrene, was five times greater in smokers.

The study followed around 190,000 participants in the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study – both smokers and non-smokers – for around seven years, looking at 36 different types of cardiovascular disease. It found that smoking increases the risk of virtually all of these types, and it also identified a new smoking risk for an irregular heartbeat known as paroxysmal tachycardia.

Smoking is killing around 17 Australians a day from preventable cardiovascular disease, the researchers estimated.

“Our study shows that a population almost twice the size of Port Douglas is being wiped out in Australia every year – with smoking causing more than 6,400 cardiovascular deaths, including from heart attack and stroke,” says Professor Banks.

“If a smoker has a heart attack or stroke, it is more likely than not that it was caused by smoking.”

But the good news is that quitting can reverse a substantial portion of the damage. In the study, ex-smokers had significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those continuing to smoke. In fact, those stopping in their late thirties or early forties avoided around 90% of the risk of heart attack and stroke attributed to smoking.

The authors say their study is the most systematic and comprehensive analysis of the relationship between smoking and the different types of cardiovascular disease ever undertaken, and also provides the only contemporary estimates for Australia.

Dr Martin McNamara, Deputy CEO of the Sax Institute and Chief Investigator on the 45 and Up Study, said: “The 45 and Up Study is the biggest long-term health study in Australia, and one of the biggest in the world – and these results make clear how the Study can help us uncover new findings with important implications for health care services.”

The research is published in the journal BMC Medicine. It was completed using data collected through the 45 and Up Study, which is managed by the Sax Institute in collaboration with major partner Cancer Council NSW; and partners: the Heart Foundation; NSW Ministry of Health;  NSW Government Family & Community Services. We thank the many thousands of people participating in the 45 and Up Study.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES
Hugo Wilcken, Media Manager, Sax Institute
M: 0451 122 146 E: hugo.wilcken@saxinstitute.org.au