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February is filled with heart-clad images celebrating Valentine's Day. Although the history and evolution of Valentine's Day are attributed to a number of different legends, what is certain is that February 14 is associated with love, care, and the heart. Nearly 50 years ago, February was designated as American Heart Month, which has further cemented the heart as an ever-present symbol during this month. This national observance raises awareness about the risks of heart disease and lifestyle changes that can reduce cardiovascular risks and promote healthy hearts. The Million Hearts™ Campaign, recently launched by the Department of Health and Human Services to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over 5 years, is also keeping heart health in the forefront at this time.
Given that February is recognized as a time to celebrate love, caring, and heart health, what better time to improve your own heart health or encourage loved ones to improve theirs by quitting smoking? About 130,000 cardiovascular disease deaths per year in the United States are attributable to smoking. Also, approximately 26% of heart attacks and 12-19% of strokes are attributable to smoking. The Surgeon General has concluded that cigarette smoking greatly increases one's risk for heart disease. Being smoke-free and eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke is important to heart health.
When you smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke, cells that line your body's blood vessels react to the poisons in tobacco smoke almost immediately. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up. Your blood vessels grow narrower. Chemical changes caused by tobacco smoke also make blood more likely to clot. Clots can form and block blood flow to your heart.
Smoking is one cause of dangerous plaque buildup inside your arteries. Plaque clogs and narrows your arteries. This can trigger chest pain, weakness, heart attack, or stroke. Plaque can rupture and cause clots that block arteries. Completely blocked arteries can cause sudden death. Smoking is not the only cause of these problems, but it makes them much worse.
Tobacco smoke hurts anyone who breathes it. When you breathe secondhand smoke, platelets in your blood get sticky and may form clots, just like in a person who smokes. Research shows that even spending time in a smoky room could trigger a heart attack. There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure can be harmful to your health, especially if you are at risk for heart disease.
You have years of life to gain and love to give by quitting smoking. Your risk for heart attack drops sharply just 1 year after you quit smoking. In fact, even if you've already had a heart attack, you cut your risk of having another one by a third to a half if you quit smoking. And because secondhand smoke also affects others and can increase their risk for heart attack and death, quitting smoking can help protect your loved ones. Make an effort during this heartfelt holiday to stop smoking and/or to encourage your loved ones to stop smoking.
For free quit support, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669; TTY 1-800-332-8615). This service provides free support and advice from experienced counselors, a personalized quit plan, self-help materials, the latest information about cessation medications, and more.
Cessation services and resources are also available online at www.smokefree.gov. These Web sites provide free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking.
Millions of greeting cards are sent each year on and around Valentine's Day to express love and care. This year, use Valentine's Day to promote a smoke-free, healthy heart. Send one of the following e-cards to your loved ones who smoke.