Just When You Thought it was Safe . . .

Back to Blog

Just When You Thought it was Safe . . .

August 23rd 2006 -
When I talk with individuals about their use of tobacco, I am struck by how many believe that they are doing so safely. They do not feel that they are endangering their health because they are using “safe” forms such pipes, cigars, or smokeless (chewing) tobacco.

A study released this week destroys the myth of safe tobacco use. The results, which are found in Lancet 2006;368:621-622, 647-658, clearly show that users of tobacco in any form significantly increase their chances of having a heart attack. Tobacco users, it was found, tend to die 22 years earlier than their peers who do not use tobacco products.

The study was large, involving 30,000 people, and it was worldwide in scope. Participants were drawn from 52 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, North America, South America, and Australia.

Cigarette smoking greatly increased the risk of having a heart attack. The risk increased 1 ½ times for people smoking less than half-a-pack daily, 2 ½ times for those smoking up to a pack-a-day, 4 ½ times for smoking between one and two packs-per-day, and a whopping 9 fold for those who smoked more than a pack-a-day. Those smoking filtered cigarettes were at slightly greater risk than those smoking unfiltered cigarettes.

Consumers of smokeless tobacco had a risk comparable to pack-a-day cigarette smokers, and those who used both chewing tobacco and cigarettes had the highest risk. Pipe and cigar smokers were three times more likely to have a heart attack than non-tobacco users.

The good news of the study is that risk drops rapidly when tobacco use is discontinued. Those who smoked less than a half-a-pack a day lowered their risk to that of non-users within three years of stopping. Heavy smokers cut their risk in half after three years of not using tobacco, but never returned to the level of non-users, being at slightly higher risk (1 ½ times) after 20 years of not using tobacco.

It is estimated that 1.3 billion people currently use tobacco; 82 % of these are in developing countries. If tobacco use continues at its current rate 1 billion people are expected to die of a tobacco-related disease during the 21st century.

The messages are clear:

•If you aren’t using tobacco Don’t Start!
•If you are using tobacco Quit Now!
•If you can’t quit give yourself the best nutritional support possible! (See “When Quitting is not an Option")

Dale Peterson, M.D.