Women and Smoking

I can still remember clearly the day in 1990, in Birmingham, Alabama, when my nursing school friend (who was a newly minted nurse) walked up to a pregnant woman who was smoking and told her that smoking was bad for her. The lady instantly threw the lit cigarette at her. Sometimes the truth can be a little hard to hear, I guess (particularly when coming from a young, self-assured stranger).

But my friend information was still right. Let’s discuss women and smoking.

Just The Facts

  • Since 1950, smoking-related deaths among women have increased by 600 percent.
  • Almost 17 percent (one-sixth) of American women over the age of 18 are smokers.
  • Nearly 20 percent (one-fifth) of women ages 25 to 44 years smoke.
  • Women who smoke die an average of 14.5 years earlier than do non-smokers.
  • 80 percent of lung-cancer deaths are due to smoking.
  • Lung cancer has recently surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women.
  • Smoking is also linked to cancers of the mouth, larynx, throat, nose and sinuses, lips, esophagus, kidney, cervix, bladder, pancreas, stomach, ovary, colon, rectum, and lymph system (leukemia).
  • Smoking raises the risk of heart disease (the leading cause of death in women), stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
  • Smoking damages the lungs, resulting in emphysema and COPD.

What about pregnancy and babies?

Smoking during pregnancy can damage the placenta. And a damaged placenta can cause fetal-growth restriction, low birth weight, pre-term labor and delivery, stillbirth, miscarriage, and birth defects. Research has also demonstrated a higher rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the infants of women who smoke. And because they must breathe secondhand smoke, children living in a house with smoking parents are more likely to have bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and ear infections than are children who live in a smoke-free house.

How can you stop?

It’s not easy to stop smoking. Smoking is a true addiction that can be difficult to overcome. A variety of methods, however, are available today that can help you quit, ranging from self-help programs to nicotine-replacement patches, chewing gums, inhalers, and medications. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best approach for you, and start down the road to a healthier life without tobacco.

©1996-2012, Johns Hopkins University. All rights reserved. Disclosure: The information provided here is compiled by The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with editorial supervision by one or more of the members of the faculty of the School of Medicine pursuant to a license agreement with Yahoo! Inc. under which the School of Medicine and its faculty editors receive licensing fees and payment for services rendered within the scope of the License Agreement. Johns Hopkins subscribes to the HONcode principles of the Health on the Net Foundation.


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