An epidemic of smoking-related cancer and disease in women
In March 2001, the Office of the US Surgeon General released a long-awaited, detailed report called Women and Smoking, along with this statement:
When calling attention to public health problems, we must not misuse the word “epidemic.” But there is no better word to describe the 600-percent increase since 1950 in women’s death rates for lung cancer, a disease primarily caused by cigarette smoking. Clearly, smoking-related disease among women is a full-blown epidemic.
– David Satcher, MD, PhD
Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking-related diseases cause the deaths of nearly 174,000 women in the United States each year. On average, women who smoke die 14.5 years sooner than non-smokers.
The most recent CDC survey (from 2011) showed that more than 1 in 6 American women aged 18 years or older (16.5%) smoked cigarettes. The highest rates were seen among American Indian/Alaska Native women (29.1%) followed by multi-racial women (26%), then white (18.8%), African-American (15.5%), Hispanic (8.6%), and Asian women (5.5%). In general, the less education a woman has, the more likely it is she will smoke. For instance, women with less than a high school education are more than twice as likely to smoke as college graduates.
Overall, women are less likely to smoke than men. But smoking is more popular among younger than older women. Nearly 20% of women ages 25 to 44 smoke. If these younger women continue to smoke as they get older, they will have smoking-related illnesses and disabilities. Smoking rates are somewhat lower among women aged 18 to 24, about 16.4%. About 7.1% of women age 65 and over smoke.
Women who smoke often began as teenagers − in most cases before age 18. And the younger a girl is when she starts, the more heavily she is likely to use tobacco as an adult. The most recent CDC surveys showed that 35% of 9th grade girls had smoked at least one cigarette. By 12th grade, it was nearly 54%. As early as middle school, about 4% of girls reported smoking at least one cigarette in the past month.
It’s not just cigarettes, either; about 6% of middle school girls had used some form of tobacco in the past month. Just over 10% of 12th grade girls reported that they had smoked at least one cigar in the past month. And more than 25% of the senior girls had used some form of tobacco in the past month. Nationwide, our youth are exploring tobacco and getting hooked on it − nearly 1 in 10 12th grade girls reported smoking cigarettes at least 20 days out of the past month. Of those girls, more than 6% were smoking half a pack a day. For more information, see our document called Child and Teen Tobacco Use.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013