Smokers with heart disease gain 5 healthy years of life by quitting

SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France — It’s no secret that choosing not to smoke is healthier than picking up a cigarette nowadays. However, new research has actually quantified how many more “good years” smokers with heart disease can expect to gain if they quit. Researchers say kicking the habit adds the exact same amount of heart disease-free years to one’s life as three preventive medications combined.

“The benefits of smoking cessation are even greater than we realized,” says study author Dr. Tinka Van Trier of Amsterdam University Medical Centre in a media release. “Our study shows that kicking the habit appears to be as effective as taking three medications for preventing heart attacks and strokes in those with a prior heart attack or procedure to open blocked arteries. Patients could gain nearly five years of healthy life.”

Smoking increases the risk of a second heart attack

“This analysis focused on smokers who had experienced a heart attack and/or undergone stent implantation or bypass surgery,” she adds. “This group is at particularly high risk of having another heart attack or a stroke and stopping smoking is potentially the most effective preventive action.”

Study authors analyzed data on 989 adults (45+) who still reported smoking at least six months after a heart attack or undergoing a stent implantation or bypass surgery for this project. The average participant age was 60, and 23 percent were women. Generally, the patients received strong healthcare including standard preventive medications such as antiplatelets, statins, and blood pressure-lowering drugs. On average, a patient’s heart attack or other cardiac events had taken place about a year prior.

Researchers used the SMART-REACH model to estimate the group’s gained “healthy years.” If a patient had quit smoking, a healthy year was any 12-month period without a heart attack or stroke. They also calculated healthy year gains for participants who kept smoking but started taking three extra drugs to prevent cardiovascular disease. Medications used over the course of the experiment include bempedoic acid and PCSK9 inhibitors, known to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and colchicine, an anti-inflammatory therapy.

5 extra years of health

All in all, the research team found that the estimated benefit of quitting smoking was just about comparable to using all three of the pharmaceutical options. Complete and total smoking cessation resulted in a gain of 4.81 event-free years. Meanwhile, the three medications in unison produced a gain of 4.83 event-free years.

“This indicates that smoking cessation is a very important step towards adding healthy years to one’s lifetime,” Dr. Van Trier explains. “It is important to remember that the analysis did not even account for the other advantages of giving up the habit – for example on respiratory illnesses, cancer and longevity.”

“Smoking cessation remains a cornerstone of preventing heart attacks and strokes and improving overall health at any time, including after a heart attack and at any age,” she continues. “We know that cigarette smoking is responsible for 50% of all avoidable deaths in smokers, of which half are due to cardiovascular disease. Giving up cigarettes after a heart attack is linked with improved survival compared with persistent smoking.”

“If you are considering becoming smoke-free, or would like more information about it, please talk to a health professional. Your motivation is key to successfully quitting, but beating an addiction becomes easier with medical and psychological assistance,” Dr. Van Trier concludes.

The team presented their findings at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2022, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

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