Current smokers – especially those who started smoking before age 15 – are much more likely to die from heart disease or stroke compared with people who never smoked, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
People who smoke regularly were nearly three times more likely to die prematurely from heart disease or stroke compared with non-smokers, the study showed. But the chance of dying from these causes was even more striking among those who started smoking during childhood, and the risk was greater the earlier in life someone began smoking. Smokers who picked up the habit before age 10 were nearly five times more likely to die from heart disease or stroke than non-smokers.
“Age at starting to smoke is an important, but underappreciated determinant of adult cardiovascular [death],” the authors wrote.
The data also showed that quitting can help reverse these risks. Stopping smoking at any age was linked to a noticeable drop in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than continuing to smoke, with the greatest benefits seen among people who quit before 40 years of age.
“Quitting can substantially reduce that risk, especially for those who quit at younger ages. Getting people to quit smoking remains one of the greatest health priorities globally,” said lead author Blake Thomson, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in England in an American Heart Association news release. He has a doctorate in population health.
For this study, researchers used data collected between 1997 and 2004 from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey to examine medical histories, lifestyle habits, and demographics of smokers and non-smokers. The analysis included 390,929 adults between 25 and 74 years, who were 47 years old on average. Over half (56%) were women. People who smoked only occasionally were excluded. Smokers were groups by the age at which they first started: younger than 10, 10-14, 15-17, 18-20, and older than 20.
During the follow-up period, 4,479 participants died from heart disease or stroke before the age of 75. After controlling for other factors that may have played a role (for example, age, education, alcohol use, region, and race), researchers found:
- 58% were never smokers, 23% were past smokers, and 19% were current smokers.
- Among current smokers, 2% had started before age 10 and 19% began between ages 10 and 14.
- Those who quit by age 40 lowered their excess risk of heart disease or stroke by 90%.
Researchers said these findings further validate previous research that showed a link between smoking and a higher risk of premature death overall, and patterns seen in other countries.
It is estimated that smoking accounts for 100,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease each year in the U.S., according to the letter. In 2018, about 25 million Americans were daily smokers. Of these, 1 out of 5 began smoking regularly before they were 15 years old.
For more information, visit CardioSmart.org/StopSmoking. Talk with your care team if you smoke and need help kicking the habit. It can do the heart good.