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Smoking's Damage Swift, Irreversible

Just 1 Cigarette Can Stiffen Arteries in Young Smokers, Study Shows
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What the study means, she tells WebMD, is that even light smoking in otherwise healthy people damages the arteries, compromising the ability to cope with physical stress, such as climbing stairs.

“The people tested were young and healthy,” she tells WebMD. “We found there was no significant difference at rest between smokers and nonsmokers, but then we got them to exercise, and the difference was clear.”

Cherry Wongtrakool, a pulmonary specialist at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, tells WebMD there’s no doubt that even one or  two cigarettes impairs blood vessel function.

The question is, “how much of that change is going to be persistent,” which she says isn’t answered by the study.

“We know if you have any smoking in your personal history, that puts you at risk for a number of diseases, even if you are a former smoker,” Wongtrakool says.

Daskaloupoulou is working on another study now examining whether former smokers who recently stopped can recover some lung function, and if so, how long it takes.

“This study is very exciting,” Daskalopoulou tells WebMD. “The earlier you stop, my belief is, the faster some recovery will be, but I don’t believe the [arterial] system ever goes back to normal. If you stop early, the damage will be much smaller, but there will still be damage.”

She also says that young people who believe that a little smoking doesn’t hurt are wrong.

Beth Abramson, MD, spokeswoman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and director of the Cardiac Prevention Center at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, tells WebMD the study is stunning in that it shows clearly that “harmful effects of smoking show up immediately. This is more evidence to prove that smoking is horrendous to one’s health.”

Any smoking is bad, she says, because “it does the opposite of what nitroglycerin does, which is helps increase blood flow to the heart.”

She says even people who’ve smoked for decades can benefit from quitting, though “it’s going to take longer to take your risk down.”

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