Smoking Is a Major Women's Health Issue

ByABC News

N E W   Y O R K, March 27, 2001 -- Smoking does not discriminate against women in its ability to kill.

Yet, smoking has been viewed largely in the context of men’s health, according to Tommy G. Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

To prevent more women from dying and suffering from smoking-related diseases, the Surgeon General is issuing a report today highlighting the enormous health consequences of smoking for women.

It also provides recommendations about smoking prevention and cessation geared to women, some of whom smoke for different reasons than men, such as to keep their weight down.

Smoking Is a Major Problem for Women

According to the report, the problem of women and smoking is significant:

An estimated 27,000 more women died of lung cancer than breast cancer in 2000 3 million women have died prematurely because of smoking since 1980, and on average they died 14 years prematurely 22 percent of women smoked cigarettes in 1998, despite awareness of health consequences 30 percent of high school senior girls reported smoking in the past month.

Like their male counterparts who smoke, women smokers are at increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and pulmonary disease.

Unique Smoking Effects for Women

Women also experience unique reproductive and menstrual problems from smoking, the report says.

Although smoking has not been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, it has been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer, the report says.

Smoking also may delay conception and may have an increased risk for ectopic pregnancy, which is when the baby develops outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, and spontaneous abortion.

The report found that U.S. women who are disadvantaged are more likely to smoke. Smoking prevalence in 1998 among women with 9 to 11 years of education was almost three times higher than women who had 16 years of schooling.

Such women smoke more cigarettes per day, are less likely to stop smoking and have less social support to stop, the report says.

Many Ways to Get Message Across

To teach women not to smoke or to stop requires a multi-pronged approach, the report says, including anti-tobacco media campaigns, tobacco price increases, promotion of non-smoking in public places, enforcement of legislation preventing youth access to cigarettes and effective treatment programs.

Pregnant women, particularly, are an important group to target, the report says. “Using pregnancy specific programs can increase smoking cessation rates, which benefits infant health and is cost effective,” the report says.

The report calls for more research about whether there are gender differences in the way women respond to smoking, in terms of lung cancer susceptibility, and smoking cessation programs compared to men.