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Can Quitters Ever Become as Healthy as 'Never Smokers?'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study confirms what most suspect: smokers have a higher chance of dying from a sudden heart attack.  But its other conclusion is more surprising: those who quit smoking could reduce their risk to levels approaching those who have never lit up.

Dr. Roopinder Sandhu of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, along with colleagues from Brigham & Women's Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, followed up with subjects over 30 years to examine the effects of smokers who quit.

They found that current smokers are more than twice as likely to suffer a sudden cardiac death (SCD) than those who have never smoked.  Their research also suggests that as smokers quit, their chances of SCD decreased linearly over time “and was equivalent to that of a never smoker after 20 years of cessation.”

When compared with “never smokers,” even a small amount of cigarettes -- 1 to 14 per day -- increase the risk of SCD, says the study, published online in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology on Tuesday.

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, approximately 250,000 Americans die each year from sudden heart attacks.  Ten percent are under the age of 40.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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