Smoking, whether directly or passively inhaled, is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and a leading cause of premature death worldwide – also in Australia.

In fact, smoking is recognised as the largest single preventable cause of death and disease in this country, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In addition, an in-depth review of smoking and health by the Cancer Council of Victoria and the government found that some 46,623 Australians died from heart disease in 2007 alone.

Impact of smoking on your heart

If you’re still smoking, now’s the time to quit – for good. Research shows that smoking:

    • Doubles your risk of a heart attack if you puff more than 10 to 15 cigarettes per day.

    • Doubles your risk again if you also have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol.

    • Increases your risk for heart disease and stroke 10 times if you’re on the oral contraceptive pill.

    • Raises your blood carbon-monoxide levels, which may increase injury to the delicate linings of your arterial walls.

    • Constricts arteries already narrowed by atherosclerosis, further decreasing blood flow.

    • Increases blood clotting and the risk of peripheral arterial disease, coronary artery disease, stroke and obstruction of an arterial graft after surgery.

Australians who smoke

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey of 2001 showed that, in Australians aged 14 years and over:

    • At least 3.1 million people smoked every day.

    • Around 600,000 Australians were occasional smokers, but were also at risk of developing heart disease.

    • Among the 14- to 19-year age group, 16% of girls and 14% of boys said they smoked daily.

    • In adult groups (19 years and older), 21% of men and 18% of women smoked daily.

Risks factors for heart disease

Other than the direct link to smoking tobacco, other risk factors for heart disease include:

    • Alcohol abuse

    • Overweight and obesity

    • Low fruit and vegetable intake

    • High blood pressure

    • Physical inactivity

    • High cholesterol

Recent figures show that at least two in every three adult Australians are overweight or obese, while more than two in every three people exercise infrequently or are sedentary. Just over 3.1 million Australians have high blood pressure.


Quite often people aren't diagnosed with heart disease until it reaches the point of an angina, a stroke, heart failure or a heart attack. Symptoms of heart disease may include, but are not limited to the following:

    • Shortness of breath

    • Dizziness

    • Lightheadedness

    • Weakness or coldness in the legs or arms

    • Numbness

    • Fluttering in the chest

    • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)

    • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting

    • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)

It's vital that you monitor your cardiovascular symptoms and raise any concerns with your doctor.

Preventing heart disease

There are many ways to reduce your chances of developing heart disease or preventing your heart disease from being fatal. Start by making the following part of your health routine:

    • Don’t smoke, or quit if you already do.

    • Exercise regularly. Even a short brisk walk once a day is good for your heart.

    • Use the stairs instead of the lift whenever you can.

    • Maintain your ideal body weight.

    • Get your blood pressure checked regularly and keep it under control.

    • Find out what your triglyceride and cholesterol levels are, and control them.

    • Eat more fruit and vegetables.

    • Check for diabetes and, if you have it, learn to keep it under control.

REMEMBER: Because it’s easier to treat heart disease when detected early, you should see a doctor or specialist when you display shortness of breath, fainting spells or chest pains.

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