Atherosclerosis and COPD are systemic inflammatory diseases that share common risk factors including cigarette smoking. A high level of nicotine dependence is emerging as a recently identified risk factor for pulmonary impairment, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and tobacco-related cancers. We hypothesized that nicotine dependence is associated with the risk of atherosclerosis in long-term cigarette smokers.
A nested case-control study was conducted within the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial- American College of Radiology Imaging Network. Cases were defined as having a new diagnosis of any type of atherosclerosis. Controls were matched on a 2:1 basis by age, sex, race, study center, smoking status, years of smoking, and frequency of smoking. Dependence was measured by the time to first cigarette after awakening (TTFC).
The study included 166 cases and 286 controls. Compared to participants who smoked within 5 min after waking, the risk of atherosclerosis for participants who smoked an hour or more after waking was borderline non-significant (odds ratio = 0.49, 95% confidence intervals [CI] 0.23, 1.00). Findings were similar for men and women. For aortic atherosclerosis, the corresponding odds ratio was 0.24 (95% CI 0.08, 0.69). Hypertension was associated with an increased risk and body mass index was associated with a decreased risk of aortic atherosclerosis. The TTFC was unrelated to coronary atherosclerosis.
Compared to smoking immediately after waking, delaying an hour or more reduces the risk of aortic atherosclerosis even among long-term heavy smokers. Possible mechanisms that explain this association are intensity of smoking, inflammation and oxidative stress, and elevated lipid levels.