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Do Other Types of Smoking Hurt Your Heart?

At this point, most of us understand the hazards of smoking cigarettes and cigars. It’s been well proven that these products increase your risk for heart disease, hypertension and heart attack. But what about other types of smoking?

Fans of alternatives like marijuana, hookah and vaping should be aware that they also pose a risk to your heart. Understanding how these different types of smoking affect your heart can help you assess the risk — and inspire you to quit.

How Smoking Affects Your Heart

To better understand smoking’s hazards, consider how oxygen from the air you breathe is transported from the lungs to the heart, which then pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Introducing cigarette smoke into the equation forces the heart to pump blood that’s been contaminated by chemicals from the smoke.

This increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by:

  • Damaging the cells lining your blood vessels
  • Raising triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood
  • Increasing buildup of plaque, a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in blood vessels
  • Lowering HDL, or “good” cholesterol
  • Making blood sticky, which can cause clots that block blood flow to your heart and brain
  • Causing blood vessels to thicken and narrow.

Even people who only smoke occasionally are at increased risk for cardiovascular problems, as are non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke. Fortunately, the body can recover quickly once the smoking has stopped. Tobacco users who quit may see their risk of heart disease cut in half after the first year.

Hookah Is Still Tobacco Smoking

Some people believe hookah smoking is less harmful than cigarettes because of the mechanism by which the tobacco is consumed. But it can be just as bad for your heart. That’s because you’re still smoking tobacco — and inhaling some of the same dangerous contaminants.

Also, the charcoal used in hookah pipes can create toxic byproducts, including cancer-causing benzene, when mixed with tobacco, research suggests. The dangers of smoking hookah include lung, esophageal, gastric, bladder and oral cancers, heart disease and impaired lung function.

With Marijuana and Vaping, Cardiovascular Risk Varies

When it comes to marijuana, the delivery vehicle makes all the difference in how it affects your heart. Smoking it has been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. No such link, however, has been found with edibles and other forms of consumption. Purity matters, too — medical-grade marijuana is less likely to contain contaminants when compared with stuff bought on the street.

Purity also affects how vaping affects heart health. Risk factors are linked to the chemical mix contained in each cartridge. But in general, vaping pure nicotine does appear to pose considerably less risk of cardiovascular disease than cigarette smoking.

Best Way to Protect Your Heart? Stop Smoking

The best way to protect your heart from damage is to stop smoking. But if quitting cold turkey feels too daunting, try transitioning to a vape pen or nicotine patch. This will help wean you off nicotine without inhaling harmful chemicals in the process.

If you smoke marijuana for medical reasons, consider switching to an edible, sublingual or topical form. Your doctor can help you find an option best for your health needs.

And no matter what type of smoking you’re trying to quit, you don’t have to do it alone. There are many free resources available to support you.

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