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Men's Health: Heart patients who stop smoking live longer

Quitting the habit can gain smokers an extra three years after surgery — a greater effect than medication

Smokers who have heart bypass surgery could prolong their lives by as much as three years if they quit smoking following surgery.

Ron van Domburg and his colleagues at the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands tracked the fate of more than 550 people who were smokers when they had coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) between 1971 and 1980. CABG is a procedure in which surgeons create a detour around blocked arteries feeding the heart.

The group had an average age of 51 years at the time of surgery, and more than 90 per cent were men. Patients were defined as having quit smoking if they had stopped immediately following surgery and remained nonsmokers for at least a year. Those who did not quit, or who quit immediately after surgery but later resumed, were considered to be persistent smokers.

One year after surgery, 43 per cent of patients had quit smoking and 57 per cent continued to smoke. The subsequent life expectancy for those who quit smoking was 20 years, compared with 17 for those patients who continued smoking.

In addition, the researchers estimated that smoking cessation had a greater effect on life expectancy than drugs typically given to people at risk for heart attacks, including Aspirin, statins and ACE inhibitors.