Does stopping smoking make people with heart disease less likely to have another heart attack?

Key messages

• People with heart disease who stop smoking are likely to experience a decreased risk in future heart attacks or other events linked to the heart or blood vessels, such as stroke. 

• People with heart disease who stop smoking are unlikely to have worse quality of life.

Smoking and heart disease

Smoking increases the chances that a person will have a heart attack, however there is less information on whether stopping smoking can reduce the risk of having a second heart attack. 

Why we did this Cochrane Review

We wanted to find out whether stopping smoking after a heart attack can reduce the chances of having further heart attacks or other types of disease linked to the heart or blood vessels. If stopping smoking does prevent further illness this could motivate more people to quit smoking and encourage doctors and nurses to provide more active support to help people to stop. 

What did we do?

We searched for studies that lasted at least 6 months, and that included people diagnosed with heart disease who were smoking when the study started. Studies also had to measure whether people did or did not stop smoking and whether or not they had another event linked to their heart or blood vessels, such as another heart attack or a stroke. 

Search date: we included studies published up to 15 April 2021. 

What we found

We found 68 studies with 80,702 people. Most studies included adult men and women from the general population, however, 11 studies included only men. We looked at the combined results of 60 studies that measured events linked to heart disease and of 8 studies that measured people’s quality of life over a period of 6 months or more. 

What are the results of our review?

Compared with people who continued to smoke, people who stopped smoking were a third less likely to die from heart disease or stroke (evidence from 17,982 people in 18 studies) and a third less likely to have another heart attack or stroke (evidence from 20,290 people in 15 studies). Our confidence in these results was moderate (death from heart disease or stroke) and low (death from heart disease or stroke, another heart attack or another stroke) respectively. Our confidence in the strength of our results was reduced because of issues with how some of the studies were designed and carried out. However, when we only examined studies of a higher standard, we continued to find that people who stopped smoking were less likely to die from heart disease or stroke. This suggests that while we may be uncertain about how big the reduction in the chance of dying is, people who stop smoking are likely to reduce their chances of dying from heart disease or stroke to some degree. We found similar results for a decreased likelihood of dying from any cause, having another heart attack that does not lead to death and having a stroke that does not lead to death. 

We also found that people who stopped smoking had a suggested improvement in quality of life compared with those who continued smoking after being diagnosed with heart disease. 

Authors' conclusions: 

There is moderate-certainty evidence that smoking cessation is associated with a reduction of approximately one-third in the risk of recurrent cardiovascular disease in people who stop smoking at diagnosis. This association may be causal, based on the link between smoking cessation and restoration of endothelial and platelet function, where dysfunction of both can result in increased likelihood of CVD events. 

Our results provide evidence that there is a decreased risk of secondary CVD events in those who quit smoking compared with those who continue, and that there is a suggested improvement in quality of life as a result of quitting smoking. Additional studies that account for confounding, such as use of secondary CVD prevention medication, would strengthen the evidence in this area. 

Read the full abstract...

Smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly coronary heart disease (CHD). However, quitting smoking may prevent secondary CVD events in people already diagnosed with CHD. 


To examine the impact of smoking cessation on death from CVD and major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE), in people with incident CHD.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group's Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and the trials registries and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform. We ran all searches from database inception to 15 April 2021. 

Selection criteria: 

We included cohort studies, and both cluster- and individually randomised controlled trials of at least six months' duration. We treated all included studies as cohort studies and analysed them by smoking status at follow-up. Eligible studies had to recruit adults (> 18 years) with diagnosed CHD and who smoked tobacco at diagnosis, and assess whether they quit or continued smoking during the study. Studies had to measure at least one of our included outcomes with at least six months' follow-up. Our primary outcomes were death from CVD and MACE. Secondary outcomes included all-cause mortality, non-fatal myocardial infarction, non-fatal stroke, new-onset angina and change in quality of life. 

Data collection and analysis: 

We followed standard Cochrane methods for screening and data extraction. 

We assessed the risk of bias for the primary outcomes using the ROBINS-I tool. We compared the incidence of death from CVD and of MACE (primary outcomes) between participants who quit smoking versus those who continued to smoke for each included study that reported these outcomes. We also assessed differences in all-cause mortality, incidence of non-fatal myocardial infarction, incidence of non-fatal stroke and new onset angina. We calculated hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). For our outcome, change in quality of life, we calculated the pooled standardised mean difference (SMD) and 95% CI for the difference in change in quality of life from baseline to follow-up between those who had quit smoking and those who had continued to smoke. For all meta-analyses we used a generic inverse variance random-effects model and quantified statistical heterogeneity using the I²statistic.

We assessed the certainty of evidence for our primary outcomes using the eight GRADE considerations relevant to non-randomised studies.

Main results: 

We included 68 studies, consisting of 80,702 participants.

For both primary outcomes, smoking cessation was associated with a decreased risk compared with continuous smoking: CVD death (HR 0.61, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.75; I² = 62%; 18 studies, 17,982 participants; moderate-certainty evidence) and MACE (HR 0.57, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.71; I² = 84%; 15 studies, 20,290 participants; low-certainty evidence). These findings were robust to our planned sensitivity analyses. Through subgroup analysis, for example comparing adjusted versus non-adjusted estimates, we found no evidence of differences in the effect size. While there was substantial heterogeneity, this was primarily in magnitude rather than the direction of the effect estimates. Overall, we judged 11 (16%) studies to be at moderate risk of bias and 18 (26%) at serious risk, primarily due to possible confounding. There was also some evidence of funnel plot asymmetry for MACE outcomes. For these reasons, we rated our certainty in the estimates for CVD death as moderate and MACE as low. 

For our secondary outcomes, smoking cessation was associated with a decreased risk in all-cause mortality (HR 0.60, 95% CI 0.55 to 0.66; I² = 58%; 48 studies, 59,354 participants), non-fatal myocardial infarction (HR 0.64, 95% CI 0.58 to 0.72; I² = 2%; 24 studies, 23,264 participants) and non-fatal stroke (HR 0.70, 95% CI 0.53 to 0.90; I² = 0%; 9 studies, 11,352 participants). As only one study reported new onset of angina, we did not conduct meta-analysis, but this study reported a lower risk in people who stopped smoking. Quitting smoking was not associated with a worsening of quality of life and suggested improvement in quality of life, with the lower bound of the CI also consistent with no difference (SMD 0.12, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.24; I² = 48%; 8 studies, 3182 participants).