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Even light smoking boosts risk of sudden cardiac death in women: study

portrait of a young woman smoking a cigarette

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Think you don't have to worry about the serious risks of cigarettes because you aren't a pack-a-day smoker? A new study suggests you may be in for a surprise.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Alberta's Mazankowski Heart Institute, found that women who are light to moderate smokers – meaning they have one to 14 cigarettes a day – are nearly twice as likely to die suddenly from a heart-related event than women who don't smoke.

The findings, published in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, show that you don't have to be a heavy smoker to do serious damage to your health.

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"Cigarette smoking is a known risk factor for sudden cardiac death, but until now, we didn't know how the quantity and duration of smoking [affected] the risk among apparently healthy women, nor did we have long-term follow-up," Roopinder Sandhu, lead author of the study and cardiac electrophysiologist at the Mazankowski Heart Institute, said in a press release.

To reach their conclusions, researchers studied sudden cardiac deaths in a group of more than 101,000 women. Some of the records date as far back as 1980. Among the group, 351 women died as a result of a sudden cardiac event.

The researchers found that women with no previous record of health problems who smoked were two and a half times more likely to die from a sudden cardiac problem compared with women who didn't smoke. The chance of death rises the longer women continue smoking.

The risks aren't confined to women. Although this study focused on females, other research has identified clear health risks to men who smoke just a few cigarettes a day. In addition to heart problems, smoking is linked to numerous forms of cancer and serious respiratory problems.

The good news? Researchers also found that women who quit smoking had a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death. The heart risks start to decrease in less than five years, according to the researchers.

And with the season of New Year's resolutions almost upon us, the time to quit has never been better.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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