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Tobacco robs New Zealanders of healthy life years

Tobacco robs New Zealanders of healthy life years

Tobacco is the leading cause of lost healthy life years in New Zealand, largely due to deaths from heart attacks and strokes.

For people who have previously suffered a stroke or heart attack, the risks associated with tobacco are particularly great. A recent review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in July 2003, shows that quitting smoking after having a heart attack reduces the all-cause mortality by approximately one third.

Medical Director of the National Heart Foundation, Dr Diana North says, “This is a really important finding. The size of this benefit is equivalent to many other preventative therapies routinely prescribed for people with heart disease, such as statin medication to lower cholesterol, an aspirin or a beta blocker. This systematic review shows it is never to late to achieve health benefits with quitting.”

A recent study by the Health Sponsorship Council has shown that smokers would be more likely to quit if bars, casinos and clubs were smokefree.

“Quitting is particularly important if you are living with heart disease or have had a stroke,” says Quit Group spokesperson Liz Price. “Smokefree environments will help these people avoid smoking cues such as others lighting up and reduce their risk of relapse.”

Dr North says the risk associated with tobacco is not restricted to smokers with heart disease. “Doctors worldwide now advise their patients who have heart disease to avoid smoky places. Why? Because studies in Japan have shown that just 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke is enough to adversely affect the lining of arteries and compromise blood flow to the heart.”

Second-hand smoke damages the blood vessels, reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and makes the blood sticky so it clots, increasing the risk of further heart attacks and strokes.

The Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand is also concerned that there is still little public awareness about the dangers of second-hand smoke, particularly for people living with heart disease.

“Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in New Zealand. Approximately one half of those who have a heart attack will be alive after one year,” says Associate Professor Stewart Mann, Chairman of the Cardiac Society in New Zealand. “These individuals are at very high risk of having a further heart attack and should avoid second-hand smoke.”

If the smokefree legislation before Parliament makes all workplaces and hospitality venues smokefree, this will dramatically improve the heart health of all New Zealanders.

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