Smoking causes peripheral vascular disease graphic cigarette warning front of packSmoking causes peripheral vascular disease graphic cigarette warning back of pack
Front of Cigarette Pack
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Back of Cigarette Pack
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Smoking damages the blood vessels throughout the body, including the extremities. Damage to the blood vessels supplying the arms and legs leads to a condition known as Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD). PVD most commonly occurs in the legs and feet, but it can also develop in the arms and hands. 1

People may have PVD without the usual symptoms of pain, but the most common symptom of PVD is intermittent severe pain, usually in the legs when exercising. 2 This pain may also be present when not exercising. In the later stages of PVD, open sores in the legs and feet may not heal and can progress to gangrene or the death of the affected tissue. In severe cases, amputation may be necessary for relief of pain and to prevent the development of gangrene. 1

If you have PVD, continuing to smoke during treatment is likely to result in less successful treatment than if you were not smoking. 1

There are around 10,000 new cases of PVD each year and about 70,000 Australians live with the disease. 3 More than 2,500 Australians died from PVD in 2002. 4

Someone who has ever smoked is more than four times as likely as a non-smoker to develop PVD and current smokers are more than 11 times more likely than non-smokers to suffer from PVD. 5

Smoking causes 68% of PVD among males and 61% among females. 5

If you start smoking at or before the age of 16 there is evidence that you more than double your risk of developing PVD, regardless of the amount you smoke. 6

Quitting smoking will reduce your chance of developing PVD.

Decided to quit smoking? For help, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the Quitline on 131 848 or visit the Quitline web site.


    1. American Council on Science and Health. Cigarettes: What the warning label doesn't tell you. Second edition. New York, American Council on Science and Health, 2003.
    2. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the U.S. Surgeon General . Atlanta, Georgia. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004. (This website link was valid at the time of submission)
    3. AIHW. Mathers et al. (1999). The burden of disease and injury in Australia . AIHW cat. No. PHE 17. Canberra. AIHW.
    4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2004. Heart, stroke and vascular diseases - Australian facts 2004 . AIHW Cat. No. CVD 27. Canberra: AIHW and National Heart Foundation of Australia (Cardiovascular series No. 22) (This website link was valid at the time of submission)
    5. Holman & Armstrong et al. (1990). The quantification of drug caused morbidity and mortality in Australia 1988 . Canberra: AGPS.
    6. Planas et al, Age at onset of smoking is an independent risk factor in peripheral artery disease development , in Journal of Vascular Surgery, March 2003; 35 (3): 506-9.

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