Cheney: VP, Heart Patient, and Formerly a Smoker

A November 13, 2004 Star Tribune article, "Summary of Vice President Dick Cheney's Heart Problems" recently reported that Cheney suffered four heart attacks in 1978, 1984, 1988, and 2000 -- with a history of heart surgery and treatment since the last heart attack. Just this month Cheney was admitted to the hospital because of concerns about his heart due to shortness of breath.

This alone documents an evidently long history of heart and related health problems. But the most startling revelation of the article was a paragraph that noted Mr. Cheney did not quit smoking until the year 2000 -- twenty-two years after suffering his first heart attack!

As reported in the ACSH book Cigarettes: What the Warning Label Doesn't Tell You and our new companion site for teens,, smoking is a leading cause of heart disease among other maladies. Smoking contributes to conditions such as coronary heart disease, angina pectoris, heart attacks, repeat heart attacks, arrhythmia, aortic aneurysm, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and more.

Certainly quitting this deadly habit should have been the first lifestyle change made by the Vice President after his first heart attack (along with modifying other secondary factors, as appropriate, such as diet and exercise). However, quitting may be easier said than done.

Many smokers struggle in their effort to kick the habit. In fact, other reports indicate that Cheney made several unsuccessful attempts to quit between 1978 and 2000. But that is why many methods and options are available to help people abstain.

Smokers should also keep in mind that the longer they smoke, the greater the risk of health-related complications resulting from smoking, and some health effects are irreversible even after quitting.

As a leader who takes pride in his unwavering resolve, the Vice President would have been better advised to change course, sooner rather than later.

And we all should heed the lesson that he learned the hard way: if you smoke, it is wise to quit as soon as possible, and if you don't smoke, it is wiser still never to start.

Cheryl Martin is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.