While the link between smoking and a range of cancers is well known, the World Health Organisation warned yesterday there was too little awareness of tobacco's impact on the human heart.
On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day yesterday, the UN health agency hailed that smoking had declined significantly since 2000, but warned that there were still far too many people indulging in the dangerous habit.
And it cautioned that research showed there was "a serious lack of knowledge" about the different health risks associated with tobacco.
Tobacco use has been linked to more than seven million deaths worldwide each year, including some 890,000 from breathing in second-hand smoke.
But many people are unaware that nearly half of those deaths, around three million, are due to cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke, WHO warned.
"Most people know that using tobacco causes cancer and lung disease, but many people aren't aware that tobacco also causes heart disease and stroke – the world’s leading killers," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
"Tobacco doesn't just cause cancer. It quite literally breaks hearts," he said.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including tar and others that can narrow arteries and damage blood vessels, and nicotine, which is associated with increases in heart rate and blood pressure.
At the same time, smoking unleashes poisonous gases like carbon monoxide, which replaces oxygen in the blood, thereby reducing the availability of oxygen for the heart muscle, WHO said. The agency pointed out that tobacco use is responsible for around 17 per cent of the nearly 18 million deaths from cardiovascular disease around the globe each year.
Yet in many countries, there is very low awareness that smoking significantly increases your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
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Due to population growth, the number of smokers in the world has remained relatively stable at around 1.1 billion, said Douglas Bettcher a WHO official.