It is common knowledge today that smoking is bad for you, but this was not always the case. The negative health effects were only demonstrated by scientists in the 1950s, by which point tobacco had been smoked for hundreds of years. This revelation came as a major blow in a world where most people who could afford to, smoked.
Before the middle of the twentieth century, anyone who claimed that smoking was bad for your health was generally dismissed by mainstream society as being unnecessarily alarmist. There needed to be hard proof before the anti-smoking lobby would be believed. The breakthrough started when ordinary people started living longer and a difference in life expectancy between those who smoked and those who did not begin to become apparent. This led to a surge in scientific research into the health effects of smoking.
Scientists in Nazi Germany were actually the first to suspect a relationship between smoking and health problems, but they received little to no attention elsewhere in the world. The first proof that smoking could damage your health came from the British scientist Richard Doll in 1948. His research into the link between smoking and lung cancer was followed up by a large study involving 40,000 doctors over 20 years which confirmed his findings. As a consequence, the British government started to issue advice that smoking and lung cancer were probably related. This was followed by the American government issuing similar advice in the 1960s following further research in America.
The initial breakthrough came almost 70 years ago now, but according to the World Health Organization more than 1.1 billion people, or one in every three adults, worldwide smoke today. During this time, research into the effects of smoking has continued and our understanding has grown. One such piece of research has recently been conducted and published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging. The research involved a study group with an average age of 75.7 who showed no signs of heart disease. Some were smokers and others were not. The study found that those who were smokers had thicker heart walls and a reduction in the heart’s pumping ability. The lead author of the study, Wilson Nadruz Jr, M.D., Ph.D commented that “These data suggest that smoking can independently lead to thickening of the heart and be worsening of heart function, which may lead to a higher risk of heart failure, even in people who don’t have heart attacks.”
The study also found that the longer someone had smoked and the more frequently they smoked the worse the damage to their heart. This is yet more bad news for smokers, but there is something of a silver lining. Former smokers’ hearts were just as healthy as non-smokers. It seems that if somebody gives up smoking then their heart will be able to repair itself of the damage that smoking has caused. This finding is significant, as the knowledge that smoking is bad for us has not worked in stopping everyone from smoking. Perhaps a more positive approach to dealing with the problem – that if people quit they will recover their health can make a bigger difference than constant bad news.