HEALTH: Women Are More Severely Affected by Smoking
Half a million women die from tobacco-related causes every year and if current smoking patterns persist, the number will increase, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A new WHO study estimates there are some 200 million female smokers in the world today — about 100 million in developed countries and 100 million in the South.
The WHO calls nicotine the “equal-opportunity killer” among men and women. But though two dozen diseases or more associated with smoking affect both genders, smoking can be more dangerous for women as it can lead to premature aging, premature menopause, osteoporosis and difficulties with pregnancy.
Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to have complications with childbirth and miscarriages, while their babies may have low birth weights and crib deaths, the report says.
“The added risks of smoking during pregnancy are reduced to near zero for both the mother and the child if women stop smoking very early during their pregnancy,” the WHO adds.
The report also warns that children can be affected by a mother’s smoking. Mothers who smoke can contribute to their children’s stunted growth, respiratory infections, ear infections, and increased risk of asthma attacks.
For some women, the adverse effects of smoking are more readily apparent than in men who smoke.
“I developed heart disease while smoking and had to quit to save my life, but my husband who is still smoking after more than 50 years has not developed any problems,” a 62-year-old Long Island woman told IPS.
The woman, who has two children, added that her son, now 48, started smoking in his early twenties and has yet to be affected.
Considering the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstruction lung disease, and problems during pregnancy — why do women smoke at all?
Experts say there may be several reasons.
“Expectations of women are extremely high in the 1990s, causing them to take on self-destructive habits like smoking,” Jeffery S. Bland wrote in a November 1994 article in ‘Let’s Live’ magazine.
For some women, and some men, smoking is often just a habit, or a “fashionable” pastime.
In the United States, a report by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) cites a National Household Survey On Drug Abuse (NHSD) in 1991 and 1992. The report says some 75 percent of the teenage and adult women surveyed on their smoking habits said they felt they needed to smoke.
The CDC advocates “interventions to prevent smoking”, such as school-based programmes and community outreach.