The Great American Smokeout

Woman quitting smoking

Become Healthier by Kicking the Smoking Habit

The Great American Smokeout® on November 19 encourages the 34 million-plus smokers across the country to kick their smoking habit for the day, in hope they continue their journey toward achieving a smoke-free life. Of these 34 million smokers within the U.S., 20 million-plus are women and girls.

The U.S. Surgeon General states, “Smoking cessation [stopping smoking] represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.”

Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death and illness around the world. Within the last 50 years, women’s risks of dying from smoking have more than tripled, equaling men’s risks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO.)  More than 170,000 American women die of smoking-related diseases each year, with additional deaths stemming from using tobacco-based products other than cigarettes.

Fortunately, when you become smoke-free, your body begins to heal immediately.

Quitting lowers your risks of specific disease diagnoses in the future, as well as improves the health of those loved ones who live with you. Quitting smoking also boosts your mood and gives you more energy to do and enjoy things you love. It’s never too late to gain the benefits from quitting smoking, no matter what your age.

Your Capital Women’s Care team shares valuable information about how smoking affects women’s health, plus smoking’s impact on the health of unborn babies and children; tips on how to quit smoking and offer help to those wishing to quit; types of smoking cessation treatments and aids; plus important resources to assist you toward achieving a smoke-free life, so you can  become healthier, reduce your risk of smoking-related diseases, plus increase your longevity and overall quality of life.

Impact of Smoking on Women’s Health

Today, women smokers are as likely as men who smoke to suffer from many serious diseases and from early death caused by smoking.

While smoking adversely affects both men and women, it negatively impacts women’s hormones and is proven to have direct correlation to many women’s health issues. Some smoking-related health issues are immediate, while others surface after longer time periods.

Women smokers are more likely to experience health issues over women who don’t smoke, including:

Reproductive Issues -- Women smokers are more likely to

  • have more irregular or painful periods.
  • have low estrogen levels, which can lead to mood swings, fatigue and vaginal dryness.
  • experience menopause at a younger age, oftentimes with worse symptoms.
  • and have difficulties becoming pregnant.

There are further health complications when pregnant women smoke, including serious health risks to an unborn baby.

Smoking and Pregnancy

If a baby is exposed to nicotine during pregnancy, it can affect baby’s pre- and post-natal development.

Smoking during pregnancy can cause many problems for a baby, including:

  • higher risk of serious birth defects (i.e., cleft lip or palate.)
  • higher risk of low birthweight (less than 5.5 pounds.)
  • and higher risk of death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS.)

What’s more, smoking while pregnant increases chances of pregnancy complications that can be harmful to both mother and baby, including:

  • Miscarriage -- unexpected loss of the baby.
  • Ectopic pregnancy -- when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus (where the baby usually develops), usually resulting in miscarriage.
  • Placental abruption -- when the placenta, which provides oxygen and nutrients to the baby, separates too early from the uterus, causing bleeding in the mother. This complication can also lower or stop baby’s oxygen and food supply.
  • Placenta previa -- when the placenta covers the cervix, the opening from the uterus, which can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and delivery.
  • Preeclampsia -- when the mother experiences high blood pressure and swollen feet, legs and hands, which can have severe complications for both mother and baby.
  • Preterm birth -- when the baby is born too early. Babies surviving early delivery can have problems breathing, digestion issues and bleeding within their brains. As baby gets older, baby may experience developmental delays (particularly in language, thinking, or movement skills.)

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend pregnant or breastfeeding women quit smoking, as chemicals, including nicotine, toxicants, flavorings and additives from both tobacco and e-cigarettes can be passed from mother to infant via breastmilk.  Women who quit smoking are making a healthy choice for themselves and their babies during pregnancy and birth.

Mothers should eliminate infant exposure to smoke. It is recommended to:

  • not allow smoking near infant.
  • avoid places with baby where smoking is prevalent.
  • have and stick with smoke-free rules for cars and home.
  • and change clothes and wash hands after smoking and before handling baby.

Respiratory Issues -- Women smokers are more likely to

  • face greater risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which causes difficulty in breathing that worsens over time and offers no cure.
  • develop severe COPD at younger ages than male smokers.
  • and die from COPD than male smokers.

Cardiovascular Issues -- Smokers have an increased heart disease risk, the number one cause of death for both U.S. women and men.

For people under age 50, most heart disease cases are linked to smoking.

Women smokers are more likely to

  • have slightly greater risk of dying from heart disease if over age 35 compared to men smokers.
  • have greater heart disease risk if using oral contraceptives. This is especially true for women 35+.
  • and face greater risk of fatal abdominal aortic aneurysm, weakening of the main blood vessel carrying blood from the heart to the body, than men smokers.

Increased Cancer Risks

Smokers have increased risk of many cancers, including lung, pancreatic, kidney, liver, throat, bladder and colorectal cancers.

The link between smoking and cancers specific to smoking women indicate women who smoke face

  • increased risk of cervical cancer.
  • increased risk of death from lung cancer over any other cancer, including breast cancer. Additionally, there are now more new cases of lung cancer occurring in young women ages 30 to 49 than young men within the same age bracket.

Second-hand Smoke (SHS) & Kids

Secondhand smoke has more than 50 chemicals that are known to cause cancer in adults. Because babies and young children are still growing, the chemicals in secondhand smoke harm them more than adults. Breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can harm your baby or child’s body. Over time, secondhand smoke can cause disease and possibly death in children.

Remember:  there is no safe amount of secondhand smoke.

Babies and young children exposed to secondhand smoke can experience:

  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies who are around secondhand smoke—from their mother, father, or anyone else—after they are born are more likely to die of SIDS than children who are not around secondhand smoke.
  • low birth weight. Mothers who breathe secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have a baby weighing 5.5 pounds or less. Babies who are born this small are weaker with less than optimal immune systems and therefore have a higher risk for serious health problems.
  • weak lungs. Babies who breathe secondhand smoke can have weaker lungs than other babies. This increases their risk of health problems.
  • more sick days. Children whose parents smoke around them get bronchitis and pneumonia more often.
  • asthma. If children already have asthma, secondhand smoke can cause more asthma attacks and more severe symptoms.
  • chronic lung problems. Secondhand smoke can cause lung problems, including coughing, too much phlegm, wheezing and breathlessness in school-aged children.
  • ear infections. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for ear infections. They are also more likely to need surgery to get ear tubes for drainage.

Protect your children from secondhand smoke by avoiding smoking around them, spending time in places that do not allow smoking and making your house and car smoke-free. This is important to do because babies and young children living in smoking-free environments typically have:

  • fewer coughs and chest colds.
  • lower chances of getting bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • fewer ear infections.
  • less frequent and less severe asthma, if they are diagnosed with it.
  • fewer missed school days because of asthma attacks and breathing illnesses.
  • less chance of becoming adult smokers.
  • lower chances of dying from SIDS.

What’s more, there are many important health benefits gained by those adults who successfully quit smoking. 

Important Benefits of Quitting

There are many physical and emotional benefits to quitting smoking. Within 20 minutes of quitting, nicotine starts to leave your body and it begins to heal immediately. Some benefits occur immediately, and others may manifest after years of remaining smoke-free. Quitting also improves your future health and greatly cuts risk of developing smoking-related illnesses.

It’s never too late to quit—no matter your age or how long you’ve been smoking. However, the earlier you quit smoking, the better.

Improves Your Physical Health

Here are a few positive things quitting smoking can do for your body. You’ll have:

  • healthier blood, heart, and lungs.
  • easier breathing -- within 2 weeks of quitting you will be less short of breath when climbing stairs.
  • no more "smoker's cough." Coughing more than usual may occur when you first quit, which is a sign the cilia in your lungs are growing. The cilia are one of the first things in your body to heal after you quit.
  • less lung tissue and function damages. Lung scarring isn’t reversible yet if you do have lung disease like COPD quitting smoking can prevent worsening symptoms.
  • normal blood oxygen levels. This makes it easier for your heart to pump blood throughout the body.
  • lowered heart rate and blood pressure. This means less stress on your heart and lowered risk of heart disease, including heart attacks.
  • a stronger body. A smoke-free lifestyle can keep your bones strong and healthy. Quitting can reduce fracture risks now and in the future. This is important because both women and smokers are more likely than men and nonsmokers to get osteoporosis, a disease when your bones become weak and more likely to fracture.
  • a stronger immune system. When you have a strong immune system, you’ll fight germs easier and avoid becoming sick.
  • stronger and healthier muscles. Quitting smoking helps increase oxygen availability in blood making muscles stronger and healthier.

Positive Appearance Changes

Additionally, you may notice some positive appearance changes, including:

  • healthier-looking skin. Quitting can help clear up blemishes and protect your skin from premature aging and wrinkling. It will also help wounds heal better.
  • a cleaner mouth. Quitting will make teeth brighter and gums healthier. breath also smells better. 
  • reduced belly fat and lowered diabetes risk. If you have diabetes, quitting can help you to successfully manage your blood sugar levels.
  • improved senses of taste and smell. Quitting sharpens taste and smell senses to increase enjoyment of foods and other pleasurable scents.

Reduce Reproductive Issues and Risks

Quitting also offers women of reproductive age fewer fertility issues and pregnancy risks. Women of reproductive age who become smoke-free experience:

  • normal estrogen levels. Low estrogen hormone levels can cause many problems, including dry skin, thinning hair and mood swings.
  • increase chance of healthy pregnancy. Women of childbearing age who quit smoking are less likely to have problems becoming pregnant.

No matter what stage of pregnancy, quitting smoking increases the chances of having a healthy baby. Quitting at any time during your pregnancy lowers risk of miscarriage.

Long-Term Health Benefits of Quitting

There are many long-term health benefits to quitting smoking. You can lower your chance of:

  • Heart disease. Heart disease can lead to heart attacks, chest pain and stroke. Within 10 to 15 years of quitting smoking, risk of heart disease may be the same as that of non-smokers.
  • Stroke. The longer you are smoke-free the less risk you have of experiencing stroke. Within 5 to 15 years of quitting, stroke risk may be the same as that of non-smokers.
  • Lung cancer. The longer you are smoke-free the less risk you have of developing lung cancer. Within 10 years of quitting, your risk of dying from lung cancer will have decreased by 50%.
  • Dying early. Smokers die about 10 years earlier than non-smokers. Quitting can lower your risk of dying from smoking-related illness and diseases.

Quitting smoking will make a lasting impact on your wellbeing, empowering you with feelings of accomplishment toward achieving a healthier, longer life.

Tips for Quitting

Tobacco is an addiction that is both mental and physical. For most people, the best way to quit includes combinations of physician-approved prescribed or over-the-counter medicine or therapy, a purposeful method to change personal habits and consistent emotional support from family and friends.

To boost success, consider the following:

  • Use telephone counseling resources to get quitting strategies and support via the phone at your convenience.
  • Let family, co-workers and friends know of your efforts so they can help you while monitoring your accountability to successfully quit.
  • Get self-help materials to plan and accomplish the quitting process, from getting ready to initiate quitting, setting up craving plans and long-term plans to keep away from smoking once you have quit. There are many electronic quitting aids, including text messaging programs, phone apps and websites to keep you motivated to stay away from tobacco use.
  • Consider implementing tobacco cessation medicines and therapies. Research has proven certain tobacco cessation medicines and therapies can improve chance of success. These drugs include:
    • Bupropion is a prescription drug that acts on chemicals in the brain to help reduce cravings. It does not contain nicotine.
    • Varenicline is a prescription drug that doesn’t contain nicotine that interferes with nicotine receptors in the brain, lowering the pleasurable feelings derived from smoking while lessening nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
    • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products contain small amounts of nicotine. When properly used, NRT can help reduce unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms from cigarettes, helping to focus on changing smoking habit and routines. NRT like nicotine gum, nicotine patch and nicotine lozenge are available without prescription. It is important to know NRT has not been studied as much for quitting smokeless tobacco.

Depending on your smoking habits and previous attempts to quit, your doctor may recommend using one or a combination of the above medicines. Talk to your local Capital Women’s Care team about devising a personalized smoking cessation plan for you.

Additional Quitting Tips

  • If you wish to incorporate medicines, talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about what may be right for you. Some medicines are introduced before taking action to quit, therefore requiring a prescription beforehand.  
  • Write down all your reasons you wish to quit and keep it with you as a continual reminder.
  • Discard all tobacco and smoking equipment – cigarettes, lighters, matches and ashtrays. Toss cigars, loose tobacco, pipes and anything else in the trash to avoid temptation.
  • Think of all the activities you usually do while you smoke and devise other diversions instead to avoid associated thought of smoking.
  • Set a quit date and ready a plan for dealing with cravings. Ask family, friends and co-workers for their support.
  • Have items on hand to put in your mouth when smoking cravings set in, like sugar-free gum or mints, carrot sticks, toothpicks or cinnamon sticks.
  • Stay busy so you don’t focus on smoking:   begin a new hobby, activity or sport to keep hands and mind occupied so you avoid thoughts of needing to reach for a cigarette.

Helping Others Kick the Habit

Quitting smoking is a lifestyle change that can be fraught with stress as those smokers deciding to quit are choosing to break free from an addiction to nicotine, the chemical found in cigarettes and tobacco products.

If you have a friend or loved one who becomes committed to kicking their smoking habit, keep in mind these tips to positively help them on their journey to becoming smoke-free:

  • Respect the quitter is in charge -- this is their lifestyle change and challenge.
  • Ask whether they want you to check in on how they are doing and how they are feeling.
  • Let them know they can reach out to you whenever they need to hear encouraging words.
  • Assist them with getting things to help them through the quitting process, whether it’s gum or hard candy.
  • Spend time with them and do things to distract from thinking of smoking – go to a movie, take a walk or bike ride, or begin a new hobby together.
  • Try to see things from the smoker’s perspective to be empathetic to their situation.
  • Make your home smoke free, meaning no one can smoke anywhere in your house.
  • Remove all lighters and ash trays from your home and anything that reminds them of smoking.
  • Wash clothes smelling of smoke. Clean carpets and drapes. Use air fresheners to rid tobacco smells – and don’t forget the car, too.
  • Help the quitter with a few chores, some childcare, cooking – whatever will help lighten their stress of quitting.
  • Celebrate along the way -- quitting smoking is a BIG DEAL!
  • Don’t doubt their quitting ability. Your faith in them reminds them they can do it.
  • Don’t judge, nag, preach, tease or scold. This may make them feel worse. You don’t want your loved one to turn to a cigarette to soothe hurt feelings.
  • Don’t take the quitter’s grumpiness personally during nicotine withdrawal. Tell them you understand the symptoms are real and remind them they won’t last forever. Symptoms usually get better in about 2 weeks.
  • Don’t offer advice -- just ask how you can help with the plan or program they’re using.

Different people quit smoking in different ways. There are those who quit abruptly and completely and those who cut back gradually. Some people need substitutions and distractions to suppress cravings and others need special medicines. No matter which approach you choose, the Great American Smokeout is the perfect occasion to make the first step.

Your Capital Women’s Care team is here to help and guide you should you have any questions about quitting smoking. Our caring, professional staff will work with you to develop and implement a smoking cessation strategy to help you achieve a healthier, longer and smoke-free life.

Resources to guide you to become smoke-free:

Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support


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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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