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Women Smoking: The Effects

Updated on December 7, 2009

Smoking is one area in which the increasing equality of the sexes is not necessarily a good thing. Over the past few years, the gap between the percent of men and women who smoke has been steadily decreasing, and now over 18 percent of all adult American women smoke; in Great Britain, the numbers of adult men and women who smoke are almost equal.

For women, smoking has been directly linked to serious health problems. Lung cancer in women is one example: as the numbers of smoking women has increased, the cases of lung cancer diagnosed in women has also gone up. In fact, lung cancer now kills more women each year than breast cancer.

And sadly, teenaged girls are increasing their rate of smoking. Another vulnerable population, women in third world countries, are also smoking more as a result of ad campaigns and products specially designed to appeal to them.

Women smoking can be a major turn-off for some guys.
Women smoking can be a major turn-off for some guys.

Health Problems Caused By Smoking

Smoking causes other serious health problems in addition to lung cancer. A female who smokes heavily will have almost three times the amount of severe lung disease such as emphysema and bronchitis, and more chronic sinusitis than a nonsmoker.

Women who smoke have more peptic ulcers than those who don’t. They lose more sick days from work, suffering from a higher rate of flu and other respiratory infections.

Heart disease rates for women have been rising along with smoking rates, making cardiovascular disease the number one killer of women past menopause. The nicotine in cigarettes affects the cardiovascular system, increasing both the heart rate and blood pressure, and increasing the risk of hypertension in the woman who smokes.

If a woman is on the pill and smokes, her risk of heart disease jumps to ten times that of a nonsmoker. And the risk is directly linked to how many years she has smoked and how many packs a day she smokes.

Studies have linked smoking to other diseases such as cancer of the cervix, the mouth and throat, and the bladder. The risk of osteoporosis also increases for women who smoke. And women who smoke often go through menopause earlier, with more severe symptoms than women who do not smoke.

Smoking and Pregnancy

When a pregnant woman smokes, she is not only affecting her health, but that of her unborn child. Smoking can delay conception and can contribute to both primary and secondary infertility and an increased risk of miscarriage.

When a pregnant woman smokes, the nicotine and carbon monoxide are passed to the fetus. Nicotine constricts blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen, and the carbon dioxide in cigarette smoke can interfere with the delivery of oxygen to the unborn child. This lack of oxygen and nutrients translates into babies who are born at a lower birth weight, and an increased rate of pre-term deliveries; 14% of all pre-term babies are born to mothers who smoke.

Breastfeeding mothers pass nicotine on to their babies through their breast milk.

Infants and young children whose mothers smoke have a higher rate of colds, bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory diseases. And the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is twice as high in the infants of mothers who smoke.

Smoking and Teens

Teenaged girls are vulnerable to ad campaigns directed towards them, and they will often try smoking in order to avoid gaining weight and to gain the approval of their peers. Ads capitalize on this desire, and imply the fact that cigarette smoking suppresses appetite and is a way to gain acceptance. This is one reason for the sobering statistics surrounding teenaged girls: they are the fastest growing population of smokers, and in many countries around the world more teenaged girls smoke than boys.

Surveys show that teenaged girls who have family members and friends who smoke are more likely to begin. They often cite the desire to lose weight, to rebel, and to “fit in” as reasons that they start, but the health effects are serious, since the younger a girl is when she begins smoking the greater the health risks. Often, teenagers who start smoking show reduced lung growth, and as they age, their lung function will decrease faster than their peers who don’t smoke.

Smoking is a serious and growing problem in women and teenagers today. Many of them are unaware of the long term health problems that smoking can cause, and education in this area is important to help prevent teenaged girls from starting, and to help those who have started become motivated to quit.

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