The Relationship Between Cigarette Smoking And High Blood Pressure

You might already know that smoking exposes you to a higher risk of stroke and heart disease, but what about high blood pressure?

Much research¹ has shown a direct association between rising blood pressure levels and smoking. This happens because smoking increases the risk of atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque in arteries).

Smoking leads to arterial aging, which can cause chronic hypertension in the long term. Tobacco smoking and high blood pressure are among the leading causes of preventable premature mortality in the US.

Following evidence of a direct relationship between smoking and high blood pressure, several smoking cessation programs are aimed at helping people quit smoking. In fact, a recent study² showed that smoking cessation programs could help to reduce diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

Let's look in detail at the impacts of smoking on blood pressure and why quitting smoking will benefit your health.

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How does smoking raise blood pressure?

If you smoke cigarettes or get exposed to secondhand smoke, nicotine is the main cause of increased blood pressure. Nicotine increases the chances of a buildup of fatty substances in your arteries, known as plaque.

This narrows your arteries and makes their walls harder, increasing the likelihood of increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and even a blood clot.

Also, each time you smoke, your blood pressure rises. If you are taking beta-blockers, tobacco smoking can prevent the medication from lowering your blood pressure.

How does your body respond after quitting smoking?

Many people who smoke cigarettes feel they can't quit even after learning about the risks. Some feel overwhelmed by the thought of stopping due to being addicted to nicotine. Others think they have already done severe, irreversible damage to their bodies. However, this isn't true.

Note that your body starts enjoying the benefits of quitting tobacco smoking in as little as one hour after your last cigarette. It isn't worth putting yourself at a higher risk of increased blood pressure and other illnesses because you've become addicted to tobacco smoking.

The faster you quit smoking, the more long-term advantages you will enjoy, including reduced risk of:

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Asthma

  • Lung cancer

  • Bronchitis

As soon as you stop smoking, this is how your body starts recovering:

After 20 minutes

Within 20 minutes to an hour after you stop smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate will generally drop to normal levels at around 120/80mm Hg, and circulation might improve. This is a tremendous improvement, bearing in mind that high blood pressure is a silent killer known for its dangerous effects that often go unnoticed due to lack of symptoms.

After 12 hours

Tobacco smoking introduces a lot of toxins to your body, including carbon monoxide. When carbon monoxide is in high doses, it's harmful or even fatal as it prevents oxygen from reaching your lungs and blood. Suffocation can also occur when inhaled in large doses within a short time.

Other toxic chemicals that reach your blood due to smoking can cause dizziness, higher pulse rate, nausea, or headache.

If you don't smoke for about half a day, your body makes more room for oxygen, enabling the body to cleanse the excess carbon monoxide. When carbon monoxide returns to normal levels, oxygen levels increase. This is essential for your brain, heart, and other organs.

After 24 hours

After a day without smoking, there is minimal risk of heart attacks from smoking-induced high blood pressure. Within 24 hours, your oxygen levels will rise, making it easier to do exercises and physical activities that promote heart-healthy habits.

After 48 hours

Note that the toxins in cigarette smoke damage your nerve endings responsible for the sense of taste and smell. Within two days after quitting smoking, these cells seem to grow back quickly, and you'll notice an improved sense of vivid tastes and smells.

After 72 hours

72 hours after you quit smoking, your body's nicotine level will start depleting. While it's healthy to eliminate nicotine from your body, this is the point when you begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, headaches, cravings, and irritability as your body adjusts to living without nicotine.

After 2–12 weeks

During this period, your blood circulation should start improving. After a few weeks, you might begin feeling sensations more easily, and your feet and hands may be warmer. You will have healthier blood pressure, blood-oxygen levels, and pulse with good blood circulation.

Also, as your lung capacity improves, you might notice less shortness of breath and coughing. Some people will also have a renewed ability for cardiovascular activities such as jumping and running.

After 9 months

This is when you start feeling like your body has more energy because your lungs will have significantly healed. The hair-like structures in your lungs — cilia — will have recovered from the cigarette smoke. You'll start to breathe better, cough less, and experience fewer lung infections.

1–5 years later

After a year of being a non-smoker, you reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, and the risk continues to drop in the long term. Within five years, your arteries and blood vessels start widening because your body is no longer exposed to the toxins present in nicotine.

This means the blood can easily travel through these vessels, gradually reducing the risk of high blood pressure and stroke in the years to come.

How much does high blood pressure improve after quitting smoking?

You can lower your blood pressure by about 10–20mm Hg or more by quitting smoking and other lifestyle changes. For even better results, try making slight changes to your habits, such as:

  • Limiting alcohol intake

  • Consuming a healthy diet

  • Exercising regularly

  • Eating a low-sodium diet

If you just started smoking, quitting early is best to avoid dealing with irreversible damage to your blood vessels. Even if you have smoked for several years, you'll still enjoy many benefits of giving up.

Are electronic cigarettes a healthier alternative? 

Although research on tobacco smoking shows that the number of smokers in the US dropped from 20.9% in 2005 to 12.5% in 2020³ due to tobacco-control efforts, the use of smokeless tobacco, such as e-cigarettes, is on the rise.⁴

People addicted to tobacco smoking are often tempted to opt for electronic cigarettes such as vape pens and e-cigarettes instead of quitting the habit entirely. While vaping is seen to be less harmful, it's not a safe alternative.

According to research⁵ by John Hopkins University, vape products have several chemical ingredients. The e-cigarettes heat nicotine with other chemicals and flavoring, which makes this a more enticing alternative.

Vaping exposes you to fewer chemicals than smoking, as cigarettes contain about 7,000 toxic chemicals. However, there have been cases of lung injuries and death linked to vaping. The CDC reports 2,807 cases of lung injury associated with using e-cigarettes that led to 68 deaths in February 2020.

Moreover, nicotine is the main agent in e-cigarette products and is highly addictive. Therefore, vape smokers will constantly smoke to satisfy this addictive urge.

You may consume more nicotine because you can purchase an extra-strength cartridge that has more nicotine concentration or increases the vape pen's voltage. As a result, there is a high risk of high blood pressure, and the rise in adrenaline increases heart rate.

These cases may increase in the future among young adults because e-cigarettes are more enticing to this group, and they believe it's less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Notably, the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey⁶ revealed that approximately 1.72 million high school students in the US use e-cigarettes.

The lowdown

There is a strong relationship between smoking and high blood pressure. Nicotine found in cigarettes makes smoking addictive and increases the risk of high blood pressure. Although you may see e-cigarettes as a safe alternative or a passage to help you quit smoking, these products aren't approved smoking cessation tools.

Many people who use vape pens to help quit smoking mostly end up using e-cigarettes or traditional cigarettes. This means you are still at high risk of high blood pressure.

The best solution is to quit smoking altogether, especially if you already have high blood pressure. Whether you have been smoking cigarettes for years or just a short time, your body can start repairing itself once you quit.

There are several FDA-approved smoking cessation options⁷ to choose from. You can talk to a health professional to help you choose the best cessation tool or program if you find it challenging to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

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