Smoking a pack a day more than doubles your risk of a heart attack, and the single act of throwing away your cigarettes will come with a huge payoff: Just one year after quitting, the extra threat smoking posed to your heart will be cut by half. And if you go 15 years without smoking, it will be as if you never picked up the habit.
But kicking it is easier said than done. Just ask Kevin Ambrose, 52, of Washington Grove, Md. After three heart attacks and an advanced case of coronary artery disease, he quit drinking, gave up a stressful career, and eats a heart-healthy diet. But he still hasn't kicked his nicotine habit.
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Tell him he must quit, and he laughs and suggests you get in line: "My wife wants me to quit, my kids want me to quit, my cardiologist wants me to quit, my father wants me to quit." What he doesn't say is, he just can't seem to do it.
For some people, giving up cigarettes can also be the most difficult thing they ever do for their hearts. Cigarettes are addictive, and all the warnings in the world may not be enough to force them to quit.
Consider nicotine replacement
If you can't quit on your own, ask your doctor for help. Prescription medications such as Zyban can double the chance you'll successfully quit. Recent studies suggest that Chantix—a new drug developed to block the effects of nicotine—may be a little more effective than Zyban.
Nicotine-replacement products (like patches and gum) help too. Nicotine itself isn't the most dangerous part of the cigarette for the heart; the carbon monoxide and other poisons in the smoke pose an even greater threat. People with chest pain or an unusually rapid heartbeat should check with their doctor before trying nicotine replacement.
No pill or patch will instantly zap the urge to smoke. You need to do your part: Stay away from places and situations that you associate with smoking.