Office of Women's Health

Facts About Smoking
Why are so many women smoking these days?

Most smokers were men until the 1920s when cigarette companies began to target women with advertising by marketing smoking as glamourous and demonstrating independence. Since that time, the number of women who smoke has increased significantly. Tobacco companies continue to tailor their marketing messages to women and teenage girls by associating smoking with social desirability and independence through advertisements featuring slim, attractive and athletic models. Minorities have been specifically targeted with the "Find Your Voice" campaign featuring women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The underlying message of this campaign is that smoking is related to women's freedom, emancipation and empowerment. Other marketing tactics include offering discounts on common household items or food and giving away calendars, address books or clothing with the purchase of cigarettes. Likewise, many women's advocacy groups have been silent about the harmful effects of smoking because tobacco companies support domestic violence victims.

What are some of the short-term and long-term effects of smoking on women?

In the short-term, smoking involves nicotine addiction, respiratory problems, coronary artery disease, dental problems, nervousness, depression and a tendency toward health-damaging behavior. Most obvious are immediate changes such as bad breath, wrinkled skin and stained fingernails.

Smoking also is infamous for its long-term effects on health. Each year, approximately 140,000 women in the United States die of smoking-related illnesses, such as lung cancer and heart disease, making it the leading cause of preventable death and disease in women. Women who smoke have at least a 10 times greater likelihood of developing lung cancer than nonsmoking women. Lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among American women. A woman who smokes is two- to- six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than a nonsmoking women, and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day and for young women who both smoke and use oral contraceptives.

Smoking also increases the risk for many other diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; cancers of the oropharynx, bladder, liver, colon, rectum, cervix, pancreas, kidney, larynx and esophagus; stroke and subarachnoid hemorrhage; death from ruptured abdominal aortic aneurism; peripheral vascular atherosclerosis; carotid atherosclerosis; and osteoporosis. Finally, smoking greatly increases the chances for infertility, complications during pregnancy and early onset of menopause and has been linked with an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and mental retardation in the babies of smoking women. Secondhand smoke also worsens the health of children with asthma.

Is it too late to quit?

As hard as quitting may be, the results are well worth it. In the first year after stopping smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease in women drops sharply. It then gradually returns to “normal”— that is, the same risk as someone who never smoked. So no matter what your age, quitting will lessen your chances of developing heart disease and other diseases related to smoking.

What are the most effective methods for women to stop smoking?

There are various methods available to quit smoking including quitting cold turkey, nicotine replacement patches or gum, cutting down on the number of cigarettes smoked and postponing smoking time. Other methods include cognitive therapy, hypnosis and acupuncture. No method works best for everyone, so pick one that is most comfortable for you and consent with your doctor. It may take a while to find the combination that's right for you, but you can quit for good, even if you've tried to quit before and have been unsuccessful.

Before you stop smoking, think about the situations that make you want a cigarette. If you always smoke after a meal, plan what you will do instead. If you smoke during certain tasks at work, figure out what can replace the cigarette. Since some people like to hold something in their hand in certain situations, substituting a pencil or pen is an option. Many feel comforted having something in their mouth, such as sugar free gum or candy, carrot or celery sticks are good choices. Some people use cigarettes to relax when they are stressed. Substitute walking, reading or meditating as an alternative.

Many people need help to quit smoking. Help can come in several forms such as friends and family or a support group. Tell your doctor or health care provider you want to quit. They can offer suggestions and support that can improve your likelihood of success.

More information about smoking can be obtained by contacting:

Illinois Tobacco QuitLine

Illinois Tobacco-Free Communities
217 782-3300
TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466 TobaccoWebSite/cu.htm

National Cancer Institute
800- 422-6237

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Smoking and Health
(404) 488-5705