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Women and Smoking: Health Facts and Consequences

Smoking-related diseases kill more than 140,000 some American women annually, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Since 1980, some 3 million US women have died prematurely from smoking-related diseases.

The research shows that women who smoke are at higher risk for a number of serious health problems, including heart disease and lung cancer than women who don't smoke.

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What's more, women smokers are 12 times more likely to die from lung cancer than women who do not smoke, and they're ten times more likely to die from bronchitis and emphysema.

While the lives of all women smokers are at risk, post-menopausal women and women on birth-control pills lead the pack in succumbing to smoking-related diseases that can go on to cause death.

Women and girls have been extensively targeted in tobacco marketing. In 1999, cigarette advertising and promotion was $8.24 billion, or about $22.6 million a day for marketing in the US.

Women: consider these risks of smoking

If you're thinking of quitting, or you're not convinced that now is the "right" time, here are some health facts to consider:

  • Cancers: Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer among women — surpassing breast cancer. Some 68,000 U.S. women die each year from the disease and lung cancer mortality rates among US women have increased about 600 percent since 1950. Once rare among women, lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of female cancer death in the United States. It now accounts for 25 percent of all cancer deaths among women.

  • Cardiovascular disease: Smoking greatly increases women's risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, the risk for heart disease among middle-aged women who smoke is triple that of middle-aged non-smoking women.
  • Reproductive health: Women smokers are at higher risk for pregnancy complications, early menopause, infertility, miscarriage, pre-term delivery, stillbirth, infant death and having low birth-weight babies. Smoking also doubles a woman's risk of cervical cancer.
  • Children's health: Smoking increases the chances of sudden infant death syndrome, infant and perinatal deaths, learning disorders, attention deficit disorder and disruptive behavior. "If you bathe a fetus' brain in nicotine for nine months, it's clear there are profound effects," says Dr. Timothy McAfee, executive director for health promotion and disease prevention for Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound.
  • Hormones: Smoking causes women to enter menopause sooner and interrupts the menstrual cycle. "It's also well established that the aging process — skin and wrinkles — is substantially faster in women who smoke," McAfee adds.
  • Appearance and oral-related conditions: Tobacco increases the risk for periodontal disease and oral cancers and also leads to chronic bad breath, teeth staining, increased tartar deposits, tooth loss and exaggerated wrinkling in the face.

Five steps to kicking the habit — once and for all.

As any smoker who has tried to kick the habit can testify, there's nothing easy about arresting this addiction that has a starring role in the high rate of deaths from lung cancer and heart disease.

In fact, a smoker addicted to nicotine can expect to try to quit at least two or three times before making the break. But here five tried-and-true ways to help you say goodbye to tobacco and put an end to your smoking career — once and for all.

1. Set a quit smoking date.

Give yourself one to four weeks to mentally prepare, and don't do it during a particularly stressful time. Use this time to get rid of all cigarettes and tobacco paraphernalia from your home, office and car. Also think about previous quit attempts, and what worked and what didn't. And when you hit the big day, don't smoke even a puff.

2. Get support from family, friends and coworkers.

Ask them not to smoke around you. Also talk to your health care provider. And consider individual counseling and support groups. Both can help improve your chances of success. To find these services in your area, call the local public health department, hospital or health center.

3. Change your routine.

Drink tea in the morning instead of coffee, eat breakfast or lunch in a different spot. Take a different route to work. Distract yourself from urges to smoke by taking a walk or indulging in some other exercise. If you're stressed, take a hot bath or do something else that gives you pleasure. Drink plenty of water. This will help take the edge off.

4. Consider anti-smoking medication.

Bupropion SR, nicotine gum, nicotine inhaler, nicotine nasal spray and the nicotine patch can double your chances of quitting. Ask your health care provider for advice. Pregnant women and those with medical conditions should not take these drugs unless they have spoken to their doctor first.

5. Prepare for possible relapse.

Most relapses occur within the first three months after quitting. Avoid alcohol and being around other smokers. Both can impede success. Many smokers can expect to gain some weight — generally less than 10 pounds. Bad moods and mild depression are also common.

Remember, there are ways to minimize these side effects. Exercise and eating healthy (snacking on carrot sticks vs. junk food) are among ways to combat weight gain or depression, along with various forms of counseling (individual, group or telephonic).

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