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posted: 9/3/2012 5:18 AM

Young smokers risk cardio disease from artery damage

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People who smoke cigarettes at a young age already have significant artery damage that can lead to cardiovascular disease, a study done by Swiss researchers shows.

A narrowing of the carotid artery, known as CIMT, was detected in young regular smokers between 8 and 20 years of age, according to research led by Julia Dratva, a doctor at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and presented at the European Society of Cardiology in Munich. Tobacco cigarettes caused an increased thickness of 0.043 millimeters in blood vessels compared to adolescent nonsmokers, the study found.

CIMT is an accepted indicator of atherosclerosis, a condition caused by a clogging of the arteries leading to restricted blood flow. The link between smoking and cardiovascular disease is well-established in adults and is now proven in adolescents, said Dratva in a statement. "After a relatively short duration of active smoking, the vascular structure already shows signs of structural changes," she said.

Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year, of whom 5 million are users and former users, and more than 600,000 are nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the World Health Organization.

The young people in the study had been smoking for an average of 2.3 years to 4.3 years, and were part of the Swiss Study on Air Pollution and Lung and Heart Disease.

Atherosclerosis in children can begin in the womb as passive tobacco smoke crosses the placenta, leading to low birth-weight and impaired lung development. The condition can lead to blood clots and strokes later on in life.

The greater the duration of smoking, the greater the thickness observed in the carotid artery, Dratva said. "Urgent action is needed to help adolescent smokers kick the habit and stop others from taking up smoking."

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