Women and Smoking

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How can smoking affect your health?

Smoking shortens lives

A large 2013 study of women in the United Kingdom found that 2 out of 3 deaths in smokers who were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s were caused by smoking. The researchers observed that continuing smokers lose at least 10 years of their lifespans, but added that smokers who quit before age 40 were able to avoid 90% of the early deaths caused by continued smoking. If the women quit before age 30, they were able to avoid more than 97% of these early deaths.


Tobacco use accounts for nearly 1 in 3 cancer deaths. Women who smoke are about 26 times more likely than non-smokers to develop lung cancer. Tens of thousands of women will die this year from lung cancer, which has shot past breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women. About 70% of lung cancer deaths in women will be caused by smoking.

Not only does smoking increase the risk for lung cancer, it’s also a risk factor for cancers of the:

Smoking is also linked to acute myeloid leukemia.

Smoking raises the risk of heart disease and stroke

Women who smoke greatly increase their risk of heart disease (the leading killer among women) and stroke. The risk goes up with the number of cigarettes smoked and the length of time a woman has been smoking, but even people who smoke less than 5 cigarettes a day can have heart and blood vessel disease. Even though most of the women who die of heart disease are past menopause, smoking increases the risk more in younger women than in older women. Studies suggest that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of heart disease even more among younger women who are also taking birth control pills.

Smoking damages your lungs

Smoking damages the airways and small air sacs in the lungs. This can cause chronic coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, and long-term (chronic) lung disease. More than 90% of deaths due to chronic bronchitis and emphysema – together these are known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – are caused by smoking. Today, more women than men die from COPD, and evidence suggests that women are more likely to get severe COPD at younger ages than men.

The risk of COPD goes up with the number of cigarettes smoked each day and with the length of time a woman has been smoking. Female smokers aged 35 or older are almost 13 times more likely to die from emphysema or bronchitis than those who have never smoked.

The lungs grow more slowly in teenage girls who smoke. And adult women who smoke start losing lung function in early adulthood.

Smoking causes other health problems

Smoking can cause or worsen poor blood flow to the arms and legs (a condition known as peripheral vascular disease or PVD). This can limit everyday activities such as walking, and may lead to open sores that don’t heal. Even worse, surgery to improve the blood flow often fails in people who keep smoking. This is why many doctors who operate on blood vessels (vascular surgeons) won’t do certain surgeries on patients with PVD unless they stop smoking. Stopping smoking lowers a woman’s risk of PVD. And in people who already have PVD, quitting smoking improves the odds that PVD treatments will work.

Women who smoke, especially after going through menopause, have lower bone density (thinner bones). This means they have a higher risk for broken bones, including hip fracture, than women who do not smoke. They may also be at higher risk for getting rheumatoid arthritis and cataracts (clouding of the lenses of the eyes), as well as age-related macular degeneration, which can cause blindness.

Smoking affects your reproductive health

Tobacco use can damage a woman’s reproductive health. Women who smoke are more likely to have trouble getting pregnant. Smokers tend to be younger at the start of menopause than non-smokers and may have more unpleasant symptoms while going through menopause.

Smoking can also cause problems during pregnancy that can hurt both mother and baby. Smokers have a higher risk of the placenta (the organ that protects and nourishes the growing fetus) growing too close to the opening of the uterus. They’re also more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo implants outside the uterus), which can threaten the mother’s life. Smokers are also more likely to have early membrane ruptures and placentas that separate from the uterus too early. Serious bleeding, early delivery (premature birth), and emergency Caesarean section (C-section) may result from these problems. Smokers are more likely to have miscarriages, stillbirths, babies with cleft lip or palate, and low birth-weight babies, too.

Last Medical Review: 02/07/2014
Last Revised: 02/07/2014