Despite the well-known dangers of smoking, the sizable benefits of quitting may be overlooked, a new study suggests.
"These findings underscore the benefits of quitting smoking within five years, which is a 38% lower risk of a heart attack, stroke or other forms of cardiovascular disease," said study author Meredith Duncan, from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
"The bottom line is if you smoke, now is a very good time to quit," Duncan said in an American Heart Association news release.
Her team also found that it takes more than 15 years from the time you quit until your cardiovascular disease risk returns to the level of those who never smoked – so the sooner you quit, the better.
Cigarette smoking in America is declining and leaving a growing population of former smokers. Earlier studies have hinted that the risk for heart disease lessens within a few years after quitting, but these studies haven't looked closely at smoking history, including changes in smoking habits.
In this study, Duncan and her colleagues analysed data on the lifetime smoking histories of nearly 8 700 people who took part in the Framingham Heart Study.
At the beginning of the study, none of the participants suffered from cardiovascular disease. Over 27 years, researchers compared the risk for heart disease among people who never smoked with those who quit.
They found that more than 70% of heart disease occurred in current or former smokers who smoked at least 20 pack-years – smoking one pack a day for 20 years.
But smokers who quit within the last five years cut their risk for cardiovascular disease by 38%, compared with people who continued to smoke. Moreover, it took 16 years after quitting for the risk of cardiovascular disease to return to the level of never smokers, the researchers found.
The findings are to be presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Chicago. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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