Facts on Smoking – How It Affects Women’s Health

Woman with no smoking sign

With the Great American Smoke Out on November 16, many of the estimated 37.8 million Americans who currently smoke band together to tackle the challenges of permanently quitting this unhealthy, dangerous habit. 

Facts about Smoking and What You Need to Know:

  • Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. It is, in fact, harmful to nearly every organ in the body.
  • Smoking accounts for more than 480,000 deaths, or about one in five deaths, every year.
  • Smoking can cause serious health conditions, including heart, lung, and gum diseases, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), eye diseases that may lead to blindness, and impaired immune system conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.
  • More than 16 million Americans are currently living with a smoking-related disease.
  • Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer deaths in both women and men.
  • Women who smoke are more likely to die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, including breast cancer. More women are being diagnosed with lung cancer than men in the 30 to 49 year age bracket.
  • Non-smokers are also at risk through exposure to second-hand smoke. Non-smokers who breathe in someone else’s smoke are exposed to dangerous residual chemicals which cause health issues that can be deadly.
  • Second-hand smoke contains 7,000- plus chemicals, with 70 identified chemicals linked to   causing cancer.
  • About 3,000 deaths from lung cancer and tens of thousands of deaths from heart disease in non-smoking adult Americans each year can be directly attributed to second-hand smoke.
  • Since 1964, almost 2,500,000 non-smokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • While smoking causes many negative health issues affecting people of all ages, women who smoke are prone to unique problems impacting fertility and pregnancy, ultimately putting both their own health and the health of their unborn babies in jeopardy.

Reproductive Issues of Smoking in Women

Women who smoke are more likely than women who don’t smoke to:

  • Have a higher frequency of irregular or painful periods.
  • Have low estrogen levels, which can lead to mood swings, fatigue, and vaginal dryness.
  • Go through menopause at a younger age and develop worse symptoms.
  • Have trouble getting pregnant.

Smoking’s Impact during Pregnancy

Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to:

  • Experience pre-term labor (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) which can lead to premature birth.
  • Have an ectopic pregnancy, resulting in a fertilized egg implanting itself outside the uterus and growing, causing dangerous and urgent health complications.  
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Develop placental abruption and placenta previa, two problems with the placenta, the organ that supplies the baby with vital food and oxygen.

Babies of pregnant women who smoke are more likely to:

  • Be exposed to harmful chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar, which can lessen the amount of oxygen the baby gets, leading to slower pre-birth growth, and damage to the baby’s heart, lungs, and brain.  These chemicals pass through the placenta, umbilical cord, and into the baby’s bloodstream.
  • Experience premature birth, increasing the chance of developing health problems.
  • Have birth defects, including cleft lip, or cleft palate.
  • Have a low birth weight.
  • Die before birth either by miscarriage (before 20 weeks of pregnancy) or stillbirth (after 20 weeks of pregnancy.)
  • Die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) within baby’s first year.
  • Develop learning problems or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

How Second-Hand Smoke Affects Children

Children around second-hand smoke are exposed to hazardous toxins, including those that can cause cancer; even brief exposure can be harmful to their health.  

What’s more, millions of children in the U.S. are exposed to second-hand smoke in their own homes.

Children exposed to smoking have a higher risk of developing frequent health issues, including:

  • Ear infections
  • Coughing, wheezing, and hoarseness
  • Respiratory problems like bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma
  • Tooth decay
  • Lingering colds
  • Stuffy nose, headaches, and sore throat
  • Eye irritation

Children facing second-hand smoke exposure are sick more often and miss more school. Children with confirmed asthma diagnoses are especially susceptible to complications if around second-hand smoke, which causes more frequent, and severe asthma attacks that may require hospital treatment.

Sadly, exposure to smoking while young increases the likelihood of children having health problems in adulthood. Exposure to second-hand smoke increases a child’s risk of developing several health issues later in life, including:

  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Cataracts
  • Poor lung development (lungs don’t grow to full potential)

The best solution to eliminate second-hand smoke exposure is to quit.

Steps You Can Take to Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking requires you to develop and sustain a solid plan of action. This involves patience, support, and perseverance. Reach out to family, friends, your doctor, and support groups to help you achieve your goal of becoming smoke-free. Here are a few things you can do now to start the process:

  • Choose a day and mark it on your calendar – many smokers begin their smoke-free plan during the Great American Smoke Out.
  • Write down your reasons for quitting in a journal. Refer to this list when you get a craving to reinforce your commitment.
  • Talk with your doctor about Nicotine Replacement Therapy and other medications available to reduce cravings, and counseling services for emotional support before your Quit Day. Programs, a telephone quit line (1-800-QUIT-NOW), Nicotine Anonymous meetings, self-help materials, and counselors can offer tremendous support during this challenging time. Have any medications on hand, and help sessions scheduled before your Quit Day.
  • On Quit Day, get rid of cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, workspace, and car to avoid temptation. Keep yourself busy, avoiding activities you associate with smoking. Have a stash of hard candy, gum, cinnamon sticks, or toothpicks on hand as oral substitutes for cigarettes. Change up your routine if necessary to stamp out smoking reminders.

Be aware that you will get cravings. It’s important to note cravings pass whether or not you give in to them. If you recognize a craving, practice the 4 D’s to help fight the urge:

  • Delay -- Wait 10 minutes. Repeat if needed as often as necessary to avoid giving in to temptation.
  • Deep breathing -- Close your eyes.  Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Picture your lungs filling up with fresh, clean air.
  • Drink water – Do so slowly, sip by sip.
  • Do something else -- Some activities (drinking alcohol, for example) trigger cravings. Get up and move around.

Inform family, friends, and co-workers of your smoke-free goal and ask them to not smoke around you. They can offer help and encouragement, increasing your chance of kicking the smoking habit for good.

Talk with your Capital Women’s Care team about smoking and second-hand smoke concerns. They can provide you with recommended resources to create a safe quitting plan so you can achieve and enjoy optimal health now and in years to come.

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The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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