Quitting smoking 'as good as taking medication' for heart disease patients

Study from Netherlands shows giving up adds years to life expectancy, even in those who already have the condition

Powered by automated translation

Giving up smoking can add years to the life expectancy of even people who already have heart disease, according to a new research report.

A study by scientists in the Netherlands found that quitting tobacco was as effective at improving outcomes as taking key medications.

Released at a conference in Slovenia this month, it showed that the benefits of stopping smoking were “even greater than we realised”, according to the study’s author, Dr Tinka Van Trier, of Amsterdam University Medical Centre.

"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 a healthy life,” Dr Van Trier told Newswise, a science news service.

The research, presented at the annual conference of the European Association of Preventive Cardiology, was based on data from nearly 1,000 smokers who had suffered a heart attack or undergone bypass surgery or a stent implantation.

Some individuals had experienced a heart attack and had an operation.

Dr Van Trier said this group of people, all aged at least 45 and of whom nearly a quarter were women, were especially at risk of having another heart attack.

The patients had had an operation or a heart attack an average of 1.2 years ago and were on drugs, such as statins, to help reduce heart-related health risks.

The researchers used a computer model called Smart-Reach, developed in Western Europe, to estimate how long the patients would live if they gave up smoking.

They also modelled the length of time the patients would live if they continued to smoke but took three additional medications, including one to lower cholesterol levels.

Quitting smoking versus taking medicines

Individuals who took the extra drugs but carried on smoking were estimated to gain an additional 4.83 years of life.

But those who quit tobacco had an increase in life expectancy almost as great – 4.81 years – even without taking the other medications.

The findings indicate that giving up smoking was “a very important step towards adding healthy years to one’s lifetime”, Dr Van Trier said.

"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.

“We know that cigarette smoking is responsible for 50 per cent of all avoidable deaths in smokers, of which half are due to cardiovascular disease.”

In reality, the extra years gained from giving up smoking may be even greater than indicated by the study, because the modelling did not take into account how quitting reduces the risk of other conditions, such as respiratory diseases or cancer, Dr Van Trier said.

According to the American Cancer Society, a smoker’s risk of coronary heart disease – a potentially fatal narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels supplying the heart – approaches that of a non-smoker 15 years after quitting.

Heart disease is the largest single cause of death in the UAE, accounting for about a third of deaths in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with poor diet and low levels of exercise key risk factors.

Dr Davinder Pal Singh, a cardiologist at NMC Royal Hospital at Dubai Investments Park, said that smokers who already had heart disease would reduce their risk of a subsequent heart attack if they gave up smoking.

He said the longer a person had given up smoking, the greater the health benefits, with the risk of strokes and lung cancer getting closer to those of non-smokers after longer periods without tobacco.

"It’s going to benefit [a patient] to a very large extent if you quit smoking for at least two years,” he said.

“The effects start even after six months.

“In addition to heart disease, there are many other cancers – lung, bladder, kidney, pancreas – that have quite a large association with smoking. By cutting down smoking you lower your risk of cancer.”

One study found that as many as 42 per cent of Emirati men are smokers, with dokha tobacco and a medwakh pipe – considered even more harmful to health than cigarettes – being popular.

The UAE authorities continue to make efforts to cut down on smoking, such as the introduction, in October 2017, of a 100 per cent tax on tobacco.

Heart disease is the biggest cause of mortality globally, accounting for nearly 18 million of the approximately 55 million deaths that occur annually around the world. About four fifths of these deaths are the result of strokes or heart attacks.

Updated: April 14, 2022, 11:57 AM