TUESDAY, Aug. 24, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're under 40 and smoke, your risk of having a heart attack is significantly greater than someone your age who doesn't, a new study finds.
According to the report, male smokers between the ages of 35 and 39 were almost five times as likely to have a nonfatal heart attack as were nonsmokers. The risk for a heart attack was even greater among women who smoked, rising more than five-fold.
A research team led by Dr. Markku Mahonen of the KTL National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, collected World Health Organization data on 18,762 heart attacks in men and 4,047 in women from 21 countries. The subjects were 35 to 64 years old, according to the report in the Aug. 24 issue of the journal Tobacco Control.
Mahonen's group found that the lowest rate of smokers, 18 percent, was in Auckland, New Zealand, while the highest was found in Beijing, where it was 65 percent.
Most striking was that of all the heart attack victims studied, 80 percent of those under 40 were smokers.
Among older smokers (ages 60 to 64), the risk for heart attack was lower, most likely due to other risk factors. However, smoking remained a significant risk factor for heart attack in this age group.
"Our data indicate that 50 percent of nonfatal heart attacks in men and women younger than 50 years (even more in younger age groups) would be preventable if smoking cessation programs were successful," the researchers concluded.
"There is a continuing need for public health programs and antismoking campaigns targeted at young people to keep them healthy, and specifically from our results, also to prevent the particular tragedy of heart attack at a young age," they added.
Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said, "As smoking becomes less and less socially acceptable, it also becomes less and less plausible that current smokers would be unaware of its hazards. But the full extent of those hazards is often misinterpreted."
"Countless times over the years, I have heard from patients that, 'It's OK, Doc, if I die a couple of years early from smoking, so long as I get to live my life my way.' The current study indicates that 'my way' is very likely to involve a heart attack as early as the third decade of life," Katz said. "That's some way."
In another report in the same journal issue, Italian researchers found that air pollution from cigarettes is 10 times worse than pollution from diesel exhaust.
In their experiment, the research team let a diesel engine idle for 30 minutes in a closed garage. They then lighted three cigarettes and left them to smolder for 30 minutes.
They found that particulate matter from the engine measured 88 micrograms per cubic meter, while those from cigarettes measured 830 micrograms per cubic meter, the study said.
Tobacco smoke produces fine particulate matter, the most dangerous kind air pollution for your health. Indoor levels can be significantly greater than outdoors levels, since lead-free gas and newer engines have reduced particulate matter emissions from car exhausts, the researchers noted.
"Environmental tobacco smoke is a major source of particulate matter pollution, contributing to indoor particulate matter concentrations up to tenfold those emitted from an idling diesel engine. Besides its educational usefulness, this knowledge should also be considered from an ecological perspective," the authors concluded.
The American Heart Association can tell you more about smoking and heart disease.