We’ve long been warned about the dangers of cigarette smoking. A new study that was published shortly before February’s American Heart Month created a new sense of urgency for African-Americans to quit.
Research funded by the National Institutes of Health found that Black folks who still haven’t given up cigarettes are at greater risk for peripheral artery disease, or PAD.
The number of cigarettes smoked each day and for how many years increased the chances of developing the disease that afflicts up to 12 million people nationwide and more than 200 million globally.
PAD is a blockage of the artery system in the legs, cardiologist Garth Graham explained to NewsOne recently. The fatty deposits in the legs reduce the normal flow of blood and cause an increased risk for heart attacks and stroke.
“This disease is an issue particularly in African-American communities,” said Graham, a former deputy assistant secretary for minority health and director of the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. “The higher risk for our community maybe from a combination of factors—such as diabetes and obesity. It also leads to a disproportionate number of amputations in the African-American community.”
Graham added that he always tells his patients that “any day is a good time to stop smoking.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans, accounting for one in four deaths each year, according to the Department of Health and Human and Services. Smoking, which damages blood vessels, is a leading contributor to heart disease. More than 37 million American adults smoke.
African-Americans tend to smoke fewer cigarettes and start at an older age than whites, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported. At the same time, Black adults and Black children are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than other racial groups.
The study examined the relationship between smoking and PAD in participants in the Jackson Heart Study, the largest single-site cohort study of cardiovascular disease in African-Americans. The researchers found that the participants who smoked more than a pack a day had a significantly higher risk for PAD than those who smoked fewer than 19 cigarettes daily.
“Current and past smokers had higher odds of peripheral artery disease than never smokers, although the odds were lower among past smokers. Our findings add to the mountain of evidence of the negative effects of smoking and highlight the importance of smoking cessation, as well as prevention of smoking initiation,” said lead researcher Donald Clark, III, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
But there’s good news for smokers.
“I tell patients, even if you’re 95 years old—stop today. The benefits of smoking cessation kick in two to three days later. Smoking cessation at any point in your life automatically leads to positive benefits,” Graham stated. “The important takeaway for the African-American population is that smoking is bad, very bad. We really need to get that message out.”