Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Heart Disease and Smoking: Why You Need to Stop Smoking


Am Fam Physician. 2002 Nov 1;66(9):1754.

Why do I need to stop smoking?

Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable death in this country. Tobacco is toxic to your body. The nicotine in tobacco makes your body release adrenaline. Adrenaline causes your blood vessels to constrict and your heart to beat faster, which raises your blood pressure. This can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Why is it so hard to stop smoking?

Smoking causes changes in your body and in the way you act. The changes in your body are caused by your addiction to nicotine. The changes in the way you act have formed over time as you have bought cigarettes, lit them, and smoked them. These changes have become your smoking habit.

When you have a smoking habit, many things seem to go along with having a cigarette. These might include having a cup of coffee, being stressed or worried, talking on the phone, driving, taking a break at work, having a drink, socializing with friends, or wanting something to do with your hands.

What about nicotine replacement products or medicine to help me stop smoking?

Nicotine replacement products are ways to take in nicotine without smoking. These products include the chewing gum, patch, nasal spray, and inhaler. They allow you to change the things you do that support your habit before you deal with your addiction to nicotine. You can buy the patch and gum without a prescription.

For any of these products to work, you must follow the directions on the package carefully. It's important that you don't smoke while you are using nicotine replacement products.

People with heart disease, however, may need to stop taking in nicotine altogether. Your doctor will help you decide if the benefits of using nicotine replacement products outweigh the risks. If you have heart disease, don't buy nicotine replacement products unless your doctor tells you to. Then follow his or her directions carefully.

A medicine called bupropion (brand name: Zyban) helps some people stop smoking. It is taken as a pill and does not contain nicotine.

How do I get support and encouragement?

Tell your family and friends what kind of help you need. Some people like support from friends and family, while others don't want people to comment. Your doctor can also recommend stop-smoking programs. These programs often can be found at a local hospital or health center.

Support and encouragement don't have to come from just your family and friends. Give yourself rewards for stopping smoking. Buy yourself something you've always wanted or treat yourself to an afternoon movie.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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