Heart Disease Home > Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

In the 1960s, the link between cardiovascular disease and smoking was first identified. Smoking is now considered one of the primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease that a person can control (in addition to high cholesterol, obesity, and others). Many health benefits are realized by quitting smoking, and a person's risk for heart disease is significantly decreased by making this important lifestyle change.

Does Smoking Cause Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease is a name used to describe any condition that affects the heart ("cardio") or blood vessels ("vascular"). There are more than 60 types of cardiovascular disease. The two most common and deadly types are coronary artery disease (which most people just call heart disease) and stroke.
In fact, these two types of cardiovascular diseases are the first and third most common causes of death in the United States, respectively. In this article, "cardiovascular disease" refers to these types.

Tracing the History Between Cardiovascular Disease and Smoking

The link between smoking and cardiovascular disease was first noted back in the 1960s. Research scientists found that smoking was a major cause of diseases of blood vessels both inside and outside the heart. Since then, even more research has shown that cardiovascular disease and smoking go hand in hand.
Smoking is now considered one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease that a person can control (the others are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity). A person who smokes and has additional cardiovascular risk factors is at even greater risk.
In addition, the risk is not just with people who smoke. Those exposed to secondhand smoke are also at greater risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease.
The chances of developing cardiovascular disease increases with total lifetime exposure to cigarette smoke. This includes:
  • The number of cigarettes a person smokes each day
  • The intensity of smoking (that is, the size and frequency of puffs)
  • The age at which smoking began
  • The number of years a person has smoked
  • A smoker's secondhand smoke exposure.
Smoking low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes rather than regular cigarettes appears to have little effect on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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