Women and Smoking


In the last 50 years, tobacco companies have campaigned aggressively to make smoking attractive to women. They’ve used advertising and entertainment to encourage generations of women to start smoking to look glamorous and beautiful. Thinner cigarettes with menthol flavoring helped promote the notion that smoking keeps a woman slim, youthful and attractive. The unfortunate truth is that it does the exact opposite: tobacco use shortens life expectancy and leads to chronic health conditions.

The Not-So-Glamorous Truth About Smoking

Contrary to the messages advertised by the tobacco industry, smoking does not enhance a woman’s natural beauty.

Smoking speeds up the normal aging process in skin cells, causing wrinkles, and nicotine constricts blood vessels, keeping nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood from traveling to the outermost layer of skin cells. The chemicals in tobacco also damage the skin, causing collagen and elastin, which give the skin its bounce and plumpness, to break down and make the skin sag. Even the physical act of smoking causes wrinkles: repetitively pursing lips to inhale smoke causes fine lines around the lips and eyes.

To be clear, smoking does much more than cosmetic damage to the body. The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health indicate that although the risk of lung cancer in men who smoke doubled from 1959 to 2010, the risk of  lung cancer in women who smoke increased ten-fold. When it comes to cancer deaths, more women die of lung cancer than breast cancer. For women, smoking is considerably less glamorous than advertised.

Smoking kills an average of about 200,000 women every year. Although the smoking rate for men (17.5%) is higher than that of women (13.5%), women account for more smoking-related deaths than men. Smoking causes respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other conditions that compromise breathing function. COPD, in particular, poses long term hazards for women: more women than men die each year from COPD, and women tend to develop COPD at younger ages than men, struggling with shortness of breath that worsens over time.

Cardiovascular disease also affects women smokers differently – they are diagnosed in larger numbers than men. For women over 25 who smoke, the risk of death from coronary heart disease is higher than that of men in the same age bracket. In many ways, smoking is more deadly for women than it is for men. 

Smoking and Reproductive Health

Smoking is dangerous for any age or gender, but for women, smoking poses additional reproductive risks. The chemicals in tobacco can damage a woman’s reproductive system, reduce fertility and cause pregnancy complications. About 400,000 infants in the U.S. are exposed to tobacco smoke every year, even while in the womb. Infants who are exposed to smoke may experience:

  • Failure to develop healthy lungs
  • Low birth weight
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Congenital disabilities

Smoking Cessation

Nicotine is the addictive substance that makes quitting smoking so difficult. It produces a temporary pleasing sensation in the brain, and once the feeling is gone, the brain wants to experience the sensation again. It causes you to crave more and more nicotine, keeping you addicted. Vaping products contain nicotine too, so quitting vaping is just as difficult as quitting traditional tobacco products, if not more.

Quitting smoking is not easy, but it can save your life. Whether you’ve just started smoking or have been smoking for 40 years, it’s never too late or too early to quit smoking. Smoking cessation (stopping smoking) is different for each person – what works for one person may not work for another. What matters is to keep trying and to not become discouraged. There’s no “right way” to quit smoking – the only right way is what works for you.

Many smokers try to quit cold turkey, but only a small number succeed. Medication is available to help titrate down a nicotine addiction and treat withdrawal symptoms. Smoking cessation medications like gums, patches and oral medication can help make the transition to a smoke-free life less distressing. Behavioral support through counseling programs and support groups can also make smoking cessation more successful. No matter what happens, the key is to keep trying.

A Smoke-Free Life

The tobacco industry continues to market to young adults and adolescents, especially in flavored vaping product category. Why? Because this demographic provides a new group of lifelong nicotine addicts to profit from.

Research shows that 90% of adults who smoke first tried smoking before the age of 18. Almost all adults who smoke (99%) first tried smoking by the age of 26. Marketing to young people ensures that tobacco companies will have consumers for decades to come, no matter how harmful their products may be.

Smoking is highly addictive and dangerous, more so for women. The best way to quit smoking? Never start smoking.

If you’re interested in quitting, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, or visit women.smokefree.gov and cdc.gov/tips.


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