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Just a single cigarette a day linked to sudden death

Light smoking 'doubles sudden heart death risk in women', BBC News reports. It says women who are light smokers – including those who smoke just one cigarette a day – double their chance of sudden death.

This headline comes from a large, long-term US study that assessed whether women's smoking habits affected their risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD), where the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.

This usually happens because the electrical activity that normally regulates the muscles of the heart has suddenly become very erratic and so the heart cannot pump normally.

Over the 30-year study period there were 351 sudden cardiac deaths, meaning approximately 0.35% of the women suffered SCD during this time. While this may seem small, this amounts to hundreds of deaths. Because millions of women across the globe smoke, there may be thousands of sudden cardiac deaths potentially caused by smoking.

Even after taking into account other risk factors, researchers found that women who were light smokers (defined as between one and 14 cigarettes a day) were around twice as likely to die of SCD. This useful piece of research further reinforces the point that there is no such thing as a safe level of smoking: a single cigarette a day can kill you.

Encouragingly for those planning to quit in the New Year, SCD risk decreased in proportion to the length of time since quitting, and after 20 years of quitting the risk was equivalent to that of someone who had never smoked.

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