When we think about the health consequences of smoking, lung cancer is typically the first that comes to mind. But a new study confirms that many people globally are unaware of the other adverse effects associated with smoking specifically, the more common and especially dangerous effects of smoking on cardiovascular health.
In fact, smokers are actually much more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from lung cancer. According to the CDC, smokers have a two- to four-time greater risk of heart disease and stroke than non-smokers have. Yet as Dr. Geoffrey Fong of the University of Waterloo in Canada reported at the World Congress of Cardiology last week, a surprisingly high percentage of people are unaware of the adverse cardiovascular effects of smoking.
For this study, researchers examined data from two surveys, the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Policy Evaluation and the Global Tobacco Surveillance System (GTSS). They found that, while smokers worldwide generally know that smoking can cause lung cancer, a much smaller percentage were aware that smoking also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. China had the lowest level of awareness of these effects of smoking: More than 70 percent of smokers in China didn t know that smoking can cause stroke, and about half were unaware that smoking can lead to heart disease. Numbers in the U.S. were better: About 13 percent of smokers didn t know that smoking can cause heart disease, and 24 percent didn t know that it can lead to stroke. Overall, low- and middle-income countries had the lowest levels of awareness of the links between smoking and cardiovascular disease.
ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan notes, only half-joking, that it seems that the higher the smoking rate in a country, the lower the level of appreciation for the manifold risks it entails.
But as ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross points out, While we should certainly congratulate ourselves on having a greater awareness in this country, the numbers are still not good. The cardiovascular effects of smoking are a major concern, and everyone should be cognizant of this.
As Dr. Fong noted, it s essential for both smokers and non-smokers to be aware of this link, because well-informed people are more capable of making a decision about tobacco use. However, Dr. Ross worries that even this knowledge may not be enough to convince smokers to quit: Even smokers who have been shown images of their blocked arteries or who have had a heart attack are often still not motivated enough to quit, he observes.
Furthermore, Dr. Ross adds that many doctors failure to advise their smoking patients to quit puts a serious dent in efforts to reduce the toll of smoking. Studies suggest that about half of U.S. doctors may not counsel their patients who smoke to give up the habit, he points out. It s completely unacceptable for a doctor to fail to advise a patient to stop smoking it takes just 20 or 30 seconds to inform a patient that the single most important thing they can do for their health is to quit. I think failing to take such a simple action amounts to professional negligence.
For those interested in learning more about the vast range of health consequences associated with smoking, we point you to our publication Cigarettes: What the Warning Label Doesn t Tell You. This report details the many risks of smoking, ranging from lung cancer to pregnancy problems.