Health Advocate Blog

Ask a Health Advocate: How can quitting tobacco help my heart?

What is the leading cause of death of smokers aged 35 or older?  If you answered lung cancer, you’d be wrong.  Heart disease claims more smokers’ lives every year than lung cancer.

Cigarette smoking is the main preventable cause of death and illness in the U.S.

To reduce your risk of heart disease and other health conditions, it’s important to quit tobacco as well as aim to reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke.

Smoking harms your heart

The chemicals in tobacco smoke hurt your heart and blood vessels in many ways.  Here are a few examples:

  • Stresses your heart. Smoking raises your blood pressure and heart rate, making your heart work harder than normal.  Over time, this stress can weaken your heart, making it less able to pump blood to other parts of the body. This increases risk of heart disease, including heart attacks.
  • Thickens your blood. Smoking makes your blood thicker, making it more difficult for your blood to carry oxygen. It can also increase your chance of forming blood clots that block blood flow to your heart and brain. Over time, thick blood can damage blood vessel walls, increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Increase fatty deposits. Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol (sometimes called “good” cholesterol) and raises your LDL cholesterol (sometimes called “bad” cholesterol). Smoking also increases your triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. Over time, these fats narrow the arteries and block normal blood flow to the heart and brain, which may cause a heart attack or stroke.

How you can reduce your heart disease risk

Quitting smoking reduces your heart disease risk immediately, and your risk continues to decrease over time.

  • Your risk is cut in half 1 year after quitting. If you have not developed heart disease within 15 years of quitting, your risk is nearly the same as the risk in someone who has never smoked.
  • Deaths from heart disease are reduced by one-third in people who quit smoking compared with people who continue smoking. Repeat heart attacks are reduced by about the same amount.
  • Lower risk of sudden cardiac death, second heart attacks, and death from other chronic diseases for those who already have heart disease
  • Your risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots declines over time after you quit smoking. Atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque builds up in the arteries, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Quitting tobacco isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right resources and support. In fact, there are more former smokers – nearly 50 million — than current smokers in the U.S.  Are you ready to put out that last cigarette? If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to the Wellness Coaching program, call your Wellness Coach and ask how you can quit. If you are not a Health Advocate member, we encourage you to check out the free tobacco cessation resources available on

Have a question for a Health Advocate? Email, and your question may be the topic of an upcoming “Ask a Health Advocate” column!