Former smokers may have no more reason to fear heart attacks than people who have never smoked, but the habit is likely to have a lasting effect on heart health. That surprising conclusion comes from a study that used medical imaging to evaluate the coronary arteries of smokers and former smokers. The researchers, from New York-Presbyterian Hospital and the Weill Cornell Medical College, reported that after two years of follow up, the rates of heart attack (fatal or not) for smokers who quit are about the same as those for people who never smoked. This seemed to hold true even when former smokers exhibited as much disease in their coronary arteries as current smokers. However, the study also found that giving up smoking doesn’t change the amount of disease smoking causes in the coronary arteries. The research team reported the findings at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Amsterdam early this month. The investigators examined 13,372 patients from six countries in Europe, North America, and East Asia. Of those patients, 2,853 were active smokers, 3,174 were former smokers and 7,344 never smoked. The investigators found blockages of 50 percent or more in one or two major coronary arteries among the smokers and former smokers. These individuals also had twice the probability of developing severe blockages in all three major coronary arteries.
James Min et al "Coronary atherosclerosis and major adverse cardiovascular risk among never, past and current smokers undergoing coronary CT angiography: Results from 13,372 patients from the CONFIRM registry" European Society of Cardiology, 2013