15 January 2006

Women and smoking

While cigarette companies once again reaped huge profits from female smokers, women paid the price in more ways than one. By 1987, lung cancer had surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in women.

While lung cancer might be the most lethal disease caused by smoking, it is not the only one. Smoking doubles the risk of having a heart attack, and increases the risk of dying from a heart attack within the first hour. This is an especially serious problem for women since women are more likely to die after a first heart attack than men. Women who use birth control pills and smoke are at especially high risk of having a heart attack.

Smoking also increases the risk of other cancers, including breast, uterine cancer, bladder and oral cancer. Smoking also increases a woman's risk of low bone density and osteoporosis.

Smoking is not just bad for women; it is bad for their families and future families as well. Smoking can cause infertility in women (and lowers sperm count in men). If a woman becomes pregnant, smoking increases her risk of miscarriages, stillbirths and premature births. Infants born to smoking mothers are at increased risk of low birth weight and dying from SIDS. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are also more likely to have babies with asthma, sleeping disorders and chronic ear infections than non-smoking mothers.

Although breastfeeding is the best method for most babies, breastfed babies of smoking women are in double danger; nicotine gets in the breast milk and secondhand smokes gets in the babies' lungs. In addition to asthma, children who grow up in smoke-filled homes are at increased risk of developing bronchitis and pneumonia.

Living with a smoker can also be deadly for adults, especially women. Indeed, more women than men die because of second-hand smoke induced lung cancer and heart disease.

Ironically, teens and young women often think smoking is sexy and glamorous. However, the consequences — such as stained fingers and teeth, tooth loss, gum disease, bad breathe — are anything but sexy and glamorous. Smoking also hastens the aging process most likely because of its adverse effect on estrogen. It can cause early menopause, facial wrinkling, permanent voice lowering and urinary incontinence.

Women and girls are not only more susceptible than men to the negative consequences of smoking, they are more likely to become addicted to cigarettes even when smoking comparable amounts.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances know to man…and woman. Indeed, nicotine is considered more addictive than heroin or cocaine. In addition, nicotine is more addictive for women than men.

The highly addictive nature of nicotine is a major reason why most people have difficulty quitting smoking, and women have a harder time quitting than men. Another thing that makes quitting difficult for women is the weight gain that, unfortunately, often accompanies quitting smoking. On the other hand, the weight gain, which rarely exceeds five pounds, can be reversed by a healthy diet and exercise. More importantly, quitting smoking can also reverse many of the deadly consequences of the habit.

Women who quit smoking can considerably reduce their risk of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases. If a woman quits smoking before age 35, she can almost completely eliminate her risk of mortality from smoking. Indeed, women who quit at 35 are expected to live almost eight years longer than women who continue smoking. A woman who stops smoking reduces her risk of stroke to pre-smoking levels. Within a year, her smoking-related risk of heart disease drops by 50 percent. After three years, the risk of a heart attack is no greater than for a woman who never smoked. Within five years, her smoking-related risk of heart disease can disappear altogether. The increased risk of cervical cancer also declines in former smokers. Clearly, the benefits of quitting outweigh the possibility of any weight gain.

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