While the link between smoking and a range of cancers is often well known, the World Health Organisation warned there is too little awareness of tobacco's impact on the human heart. Smoking is a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. In fact, tobacco use has been linked to more than seven million deaths worldwide each year1. What most of us might not be unaware of is the fact that approximately three million of those deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke2. Some 890,000 deaths can also be directly attributed to the inhalation of second-hand smoke. While these statistics are worrying, change can still be made. For smokers, giving up smoking is undeniably the most effective way of protecting themselves and their loved ones against coronary heart disease. Whether you are looking to make a change yourself or helping someone else in their journey to quit smoking, here are some essential knowledge and tips that can equip you with the tools to push for a more smoke-free world.
The effects of smoking on our heart health
Every cigarette contains more than 7,000 harmful chemicals. Nicotine, for one, triggers the release of adrenaline in the body. This causes our blood vessels to narrow and forces the heart to beat harder, resulting in high blood pressure. In this regard, smoking damages the blood vessels, reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and increases the likelihood of blood clots, which are often responsible for heart attacks and strokes. Smokers are therefore two to four times more likely to have heart disease, among an array of other health problems like cancer, lung diseases and stomach ulcers3. In Singapore, specifically, studies have indicated that an alarming 40% of deaths caused by heart disease before the age of 65 years are smoking-related4. The effects, however, do not simply stop there. Passive smokers are also likely to suffer from similar health risks as smokers themselves due to the involuntary inhalation of second-hand smoke. Exposing children and infants to tobacco smoke, for instance, increases their likelihood of suffering from chronic breathing problems and ear infections5.
The benefits of quitting
Although breaking free of the smoking habit may be difficult, the good news is that it is never too late for a person to quit regardless of how long they have been smoking for, and the benefits of doing so are indisputable. As a start, giving up smoking will increase the amount of oxygen in the body and improve blood circulation. This means that respiration and physical activities will become much easier, giving ex-smokers more energy, as well as a lower risk of getting heart-related diseases, strokes and cancers. Encouragingly, research has shown that the risk of cardiovascular complications will be reduced by 50% within one year of quitting, and will be almost the same as the risk faced by a long-time non-smoker within ten years6. Reduced inflammation in the body will also vastly improve immune systems, making it easier to stay healthy rather than succumbing to illnesses. The smoke-free period allows the body to recover, with previously damaged nerve endings beginning to grow again for a better sense of taste and smell. There are even studies linking the commitment of giving up smoking to improved mental health and psychological outlooks7. Ultimately, all these benefits translate to a better quality of life for individuals and offer them invaluable opportunities to enjoy the company of friends and family without further endangering their health.
Motivating your employees' to quit smoking
Often, making a commitment to quit can be entirely different from the experience of quitting itself. While the withdrawal symptoms may differ from person to person, they are still undeniably hard to deal with and should not be easily dismissed. As we find ourselves in the roles of employers, coworkers and friends to the individuals who are going through the process, there is much that we can do to support them in their commitment to live healthier. For one, being aware of their decision to quit smoking can allow us to help keep them accountable in their journey. It can also push us to make intentional choices that will aid them along the way, such as opting for activities in smoke-free places or staying away from elements that might serve as potential triggers. Even better, implementing a smoke-free workplace can go a long way in shielding them from the temptation to smoke, especially since it is one of the places where we spend most of our time at. Providing employees with the appropriate incentives to quit is also another way to spur them on, provided that it is in your capacity to do so. Finally, when it comes down to the day-to-day struggles, asking them the following questions may prove to be useful in renewing their resolve:
- What are your reasons for quitting?
- What are your main triggers?
- What can you do instead of smoking?
- How can I help?
Over to you
Ultimately, smoking cessation is a life-long process rather than a one-time event. It is a journey that requires a lot of motivation, commitment and support, which makes building and maintaining a robust support system crucial for preventing lapses. The workplace therefore has a huge role to play in serving as a much-needed source of support for these individuals, especially if the right measures are in place.
1. World Health Organisation. (2020). Tobacco.
2. The Straits Times. (2018). Heartbreaker? Smoking causing millions of heart attacks, strokes: WHO.
3. John Hopkins Medicine. Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease.
4. National Healthcare Group. Long-Term Health Effects of Smoking.
5. Texas Heart Institute. Smoking and Your Heart.
6. European Lung Foundation. (2019). “It is never too late to stop smoking”: interview with stop-smoking specialist Dyna Torrado.
7. McNamee, D. (2014). Giving up smoking can improve psychological quality of life. Medical News Today.