Yes, you’ve heard the antismoking rant before. But there’s a reason for it. Quitting smoking should top your list of things to do to avoid heart disease. And that’s true even if the only time you light up is over mojitos with friends. Recent research shows that smoking between one and five cigarettes a day triples your chance of dying from a heart attack, and that it’s even worse for women than for men. Smoking narrows arteries, raises blood pressure, thickens blood, and makes it more likely to clot — the classic recipe for a heart attack. This is especially true if you have other risk factors, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which together with smoking make you much more likely to get heart disease. You take birth control and smoke? You’ve just put another bullet in the gun. That combo raises blood pressure and can lead to blood clots, further increasing your risk.
While studies have shown that women have a harder time breaking the habit than men, there is encouraging news: A fall 2006 study from the University of Chicago shows that the prescription drug naltrexone — when used in combination with behavioral therapy and nicotine patches — boosted smoking cessation rates among women by 50 percent (though it made no difference in men). Naltrexone also reduced weight gain in the first month after quitting. Talk to your doctor about the drug.