You don't have to be a heavy smoker to face the deadly health risks of cigarettes, according to a new study.
Published in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology, the new findings show that light-to-moderate cigarette use in women is linked with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death, compared with people who don't light up. Researchers considered light-to-moderate smokers as those who smoke between one and 14 cigarettes on a daily basis.
"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 effected the risk among apparently healthy women, nor did we have long-term follow-up," study researcher Dr. Roopinder K. Sandhu, M.D., M.P.H., a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Alberta's Mazankowski Heart Institute, said in a statement.
The study is based on data from 101,000 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study. The women they used began the study in 1980, and were followed up for 30 years; they were also between 30 and 55, and were all Caucasian.
Over the study period, researchers found that 351 of the participants had died from sudden cardiac death. Researchers found that even if the women were considered light or moderate smokers, their risk of dying in this way was nearly doubled. And compared to their never-smoking peers, their risk of dying from sudden cardiac death was nearly two-and-a-half times higher even if they didn't have any prior history with stroke, heart disease or cancer, researchers found.
Researchers also found a link between duration of smoking and risk of sudden cardiac death. Particularly, the risk of death from this cause increased by 8 percent with each five smoking years.
But when the women stopped smoking, their risk of sudden cardiac death did decrease -- though not immediately. For those without a history of stroke, heart disease or cancer, their risk of sudden cardiac death went back down to a never-smoker's within five years. For those with heart disease, their risk went back down to a never-smoker's within 15 to 20 years.
This isn't the first time sudden cardiac death has been tied to cigarette smoking. A 2003 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine also showed an increased risk of dying in this way with "current cigarette smoking," though the risk decreased with quitting.