“Heart disease kills more Laborers than any job-related injury, and tobacco use, which increases the risk for high blood pressure, is a significant factor,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “The good news is that the human body is quite resilient. When you quit the tobacco habit, your risk for these life-threatening conditions begins to go down almost immediately.”
High blood pressure
High blood pressure – also called hypertension – has few symptoms and often goes untreated. Uncontrolled high blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher can lead to heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis – the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of heart disease.
Smoking and high blood pressure
Smoking is the leading cause of premature death in both the United States and Canada, and it’s not always because of cancer. Of the 440,000 untimely deaths that smoking causes every year, 35 percent – 154,000 – are due to heart disease. Smoking contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease by:
- Constricting blood vessels
- Decreasing oxygen to the heart
- Increasing blood pressure and heart rate
- Increasing blood clotting
- Exposing the body to nicotine
This is how quickly health begins to improve when a smoker quits:
- Within 20 minutes of putting out that last cigarette: heart rate and blood pressure drop
- Within 12 hours: carbon monoxide level in blood drops to normal
- Two weeks to three months: circulation improves
- One year: heart disease risk is half that of a continuing smoker’s
- Within two to five years: risk for stroke falls to about the same as a nonsmoker’s.
- Food tastes better
- Sense of smell returns to normal
- Breath, hair and clothes smell better
- Teeth and fingernails stop yellowing
- Climbing stairs and other ordinary daily activities leaves former smokers less winded
Smokeless tobacco and high blood pressure
Smokeless tobacco is not a safer alternative to smoking. Along with cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and pancreas that kill 5,800 Americans annually, users of smokeless tobacco products increase their risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. The spike in blood pressure from nicotine is temporary, but all smokeless tobacco products are also full of salt. Salt contains sodium and too much of that can contribute to blood pressure levels that are chronically high (see LIFELINES, Shake Salt and Sodium Out of Your Diet). Furthermore, the addictive quality of nicotine makes it more likely that users of smokeless tobacco will go on to become smokers. Using smokeless tobacco products can also cause:
- Leukoplakia (white sores in the mouth that can become cancer)
- Receding gums (gums slowly shrink from around the teeth) and gum disease (gingivitis)
- Bone loss around the roots of the teeth
- Abrasion (scratching and wearing down) of teeth
- Cavities and tooth decay (from the sweeteners in smokeless products)
- Tooth loss
- Stained and discolored teeth
- Bad breath
When it comes to reducing your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and poor health in general, the best approach toward all tobacco products is to leave them alone.
The LHSFNA has a number of posters, brochures and other materials that can educate Laborers about the hazards of smoking and smokeless tobacco and also offer suggestions and tips for breaking the tobacco habit.
The Fund also offers a variety of brochures and health alerts pertaining to high blood pressure, heart disease and general wellness. All of these can be ordered through the Fund’s Publications Catalogue.
Next month, a look at how sleep affects blood pressure.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]