The Effects of Smoking – Does Smoking Affect Your Blood Pressure and Heart Rate?
By Ivan Srsen Posted April 9, 2018
I know, I know – constantly harping about the repercussions of smoking is becoming a bit tedious already. After all, you’re here to learn whether or not e-cigarettes can help you quit smoking, and not read (yet again) why smoking is bad for you.
Well, tough luck.
In order to quit smoking, you first need to learn exactly why (and how) are cigarettes ruining your life. Don’t worry, I’ll be approaching this one with a bit of a twist. We’ll run down all the obvious ways in which smoking is bad for your health, but, what I want to really focus on, is how smoking affects your heart and blood pressure.
Because most smokers die of heart illnesses caused, in some cases, by chronic hypertension (increased blood pressure). High blood pressure is a sneaky killer, damaging your heart and blood vessels slowly and silently, until both are so weak that something’s got to give at one point.
Damage Caused by Smoking
As a smoker, you probably know that cigarettes are bad for you. Heck, you’d have to live under a rock not to. Still, you’re keeping up with the habit. Chances are you did try to quit, numerous times actually, but you always find yourself lighting up.
Being just vaguely aware of the numerous ways smoking is messing with your life is not enough. Digging deep enough will help you put things in perspective and provide you with an incentive and encouragement to stick to your quit decision.
So here’s a quick list of all the ways tobacco is harming you:
- You’re a social pariah, always having to excuse yourself to find a cold, damp place where you can light a cigarette. When you rejoin your group, you reek of cigarette smoke, so it’s no wonder your friends are giving you a wide berth.
- You can’t participate in a number of social activities. Sports are a prime example of this – you’re always making up lame excuses as to why you can’t go for a jog or play softball with your friends. The truth is: too much exertion and you feel like your chest is on fire.
- Going out is not as fun as it used to be. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other venues prohibit smoking so you just end up sitting there, wondering how you’re going to sneak out to have a smoke. You end up staying home more often than not, choosing cigarettes over social interactions.
- Friends that are conscious about their health will not be hanging out with you as much, especially if they have kids. That’s not surprising – secondhand smoke kills around 40,000 people in the US every year.
Let’s say you’re a loner anyway and you can live without that pesky social contact. Can you live with a huge hole in your pocket? Because that’s what you’re subscribing to with smoking. I won’t bore you with too many details – suffice it to say that if you quit smoking today, you could probably buy a decent house with the money you’d save.
So, how much money will you get to keep if you ditch cigarettes?
If you live in Virginia, you’re paying $525 for a pack. Over the next 50 years (assuming you smoke one pack a day), you’ll spend around $95K. On the other hand, if you’re in New York (where a pack of cigarettes costs $12.85), you’ll spend a whopping $230K.
That’s a hell of a lot of money! Imagine investing that in bonds, stocks, or BitCoin – you could end up being a millionaire in 50 years time. Or not. It doesn’t really matter – at least you’ll live that long.
God only knows how many books are out there about the negative effects smoking has on the health. It literally affects each and every system in your body. That’s why I’ll keep this brief and just give you a brief overview of short-term and long-term effects that smoking has on your body.
Short-term health effects of smoking:
- Addiction – although it’s generally assumed that it takes a while until you’re hooked on nicotine, recent studies show that clinically relevant addiction can be observed after a short period of time, sometimes even after a week of smoking.
- Stress increase – contrary to popular belief, smoking actually makes you more jumpy and stressful. Thanks to nicotine, you become more alert (more adrenaline pumping through your blood), which raises your stress levels.
- Altered brain chemistry – mild euphoria, slightly sedative effect, irritability – smoking causes a roller coaster of emotions because it interferes with normal brain chemistry.
- Respiratory problems – your lungs are getting irritated with every single cigarette. They will collect more mucus, which will cause you to breath harder. Cigarettes are also responsible for violent fits of cough because they irritate the throat.
- Gastrointestinal problems – smokers are more likely to develop GERD and heartburn since the stomach is not equipped to deal with those levels of acidity efficiently. It can become a chronic condition, but also affect people after a single cigarette.
Long-term health effects of smoking:
- Ischemic stroke – if you smoke around 20 cigarettes every day, your chances of suffering an ischemic stroke are six times greater than those of a non-smoker. Also, your chances of surviving that stroke are around 50% lower than if you didn’t smoke.
- Peptic ulcers – smoking greatly increases your chances of getting a peptic ulcer. The upper part of your intestine (duodenum) is at an even greater risk when it comes to ulcers, as is your esophagus.
- Lungs – smokers have a diminished lung capacity and a 10X greater risk of developing COPD, as well as an increased risk of emphysema, chronic cough, and shortness of breath.
- Dental health problems – notice how your teeth are losing color the more you smoke? That’s not all – you can also expect them to decay more rapidly, as well as pretty much bank on developing a myriad of gum diseases, including periodontitis.
- Cancer – smoking causes at least 14 different cancers, on organs ranging from lungs to bladder. Various chemicals found in cigarette smoke trigger DNA damage, which then results in abnormal tissue growth.
Frankly, this is a relatively short list of health hazards associated with smoking – check here for a more comprehensive look. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the heart or blood vessels. I wanted to take a separate look at that, as well as at how smoking affects heart rate and blood pressure.
Does Smoking Cause Increased Heart Rate?
First of all, there’s no doubt that smoking causes various heart problems. These can range from atherosclerosis to decreased heart function. Atherosclerosis is narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels – essentially plaque buildup. When your vessels are narrow, your heart has to work twice as fast to pump blood, which puts a lot of strain on it. Eventually, this can cause something that’s called an enlarged left heart syndrome, which basically means that the left side of your heart expands and weakness because of all the work it needs to do pump blood through your body. Also, you have greater chances of suffering from a heart attack or stroke because the plaque in your arteries can get dislodged and cause all sorts of problems.
However, does smoking increase your heart rate? This is still a controversial issue and more studies are needed to confirm it. It’s important because elevated heart rate is not healthy – athletes have a resting heart rate between 40 and 60, and regular Joe’s around 80 bpm.
Some studies have found that smokers have an increased HR at rest, while having a lower HR increase when exercising. Also, their peak HR during extraneous circumstances seems to be lower than that of non-smokers.
On the other hand, other studies show that smokers have a pretty much similar heart rate to non-smokers when they are not smoking. When they are smoking, their heart rate can increase by almost 30% (which is a significant, and unhealthy, increase).
As mentioned, more pointed studies are needed to see how smoking affects heart rate in the short and the long run. While general studies have been done, we still can’t tell what causes an that temporary HR increase (is it nicotine, as we’ve assumed for ages, or is it something else entirely?)
Be that as it may, it’s undeniable that smoking has an adverse effect on your heart. Just because studies involving heart rate are inconclusive doesn’t mean it’s safe to gamble with cigarettes.
How Does Smoking Affect Blood Pressure?
The effects of smoking on blood pressure are also somewhat controversial. It’s been long believed that nicotine is responsible for high blood pressure in smokers, which is consistent with the fact that it’s a vasoconstrictor (it tightens the blood vessels).
However, some research shows that smokers actually have lower blood pressure. In fact, a four-year study involving 8,000 steel workers showed that smokers have consistently lower BP than non-smokers and those who quit smoking.
What gives, right?
Well, a Pickering et al study argues that smokers can generally develop a resistance to BP spikes associated with smoking. While there’s no doubt that nicotine does cause an acute (temporary) rise in blood pressure, it doesn’t seem to lead to chronic hypertension. In fact, a controversial researcher, Dr. Newhouse, did studies that actually show that nicotine, in and of itself, lowers blood pressure.
Guys over at AshTray blog turned to the world’s leading expert on vaping and health, Dr. Farsalinos, who had this to say on the subject of nicotine and BP:
‘Nicotine has immediate effects on blood pressure (acute elevation, lasting for about 15 minutes). But smoking has been associated (in some studies) with lower blood pressure.
“Moreover, some studies have shown that smoking cessation leads to elevated blood pressure. This is probably attributed to weight gain commonly observed after smoking cessation. On the other side, there are some other studies showing opposite findings.”
“The consensus right now is that smoking is not a risk factor for developing hypertension, however, hypertensives who also smoke have much higher risk for developing heart disease compared to hypertensive non-smokers.’
Smoking, Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate – Still a Controversial Topic
Yes, the ties between smoking and heart rate and blood pressure are still somewhat of a mystery and even scientists can’t agree on it. However, this doesn’t mean that you get a carte blanche when it comes to smoking. It’s still the number one preventable cause of death in the world.
Further studies will enlighten us as to whether or not it’s safe to use vaping with nicotine to help people to quit, that’s all. If studies show that nicotine is significantly less responsible for high BP and HR, then vapers can reasonably argue that vaping should be recognized as a smoking cessation tool. It’s certainly not an endorsement for smoking.
Bottom line? Smoking is so bad overall that it doesn’t even matter if it affects blood pressure. The list of its adverse effects is still pretty long so do yourself a favor and quit today.