The Facts About Women and Smoking
From increasing disease risks to harming their babies, smoking can have serious health consequences for women.

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Picture of woman holding a cigarette The Facts About Women and Smoking

In the 1970s a famous ad campaign aimed at getting women to smoke proclaimed, "You've Come a Long Way, Baby." Today, women smoke almost as much as men. And they are suffering some of the same, if not greater, health consequences.

Women who smoke cigarettes have an increased risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and complications from birth control pills. Smoking causes 90 percent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths in women each year. During pregnancy, cigarette smoking raises the risks of a low birth weight infant and infant death.

It's estimated that cigarette smoking kills 178,000 women in this country annually. On average, women smokers who die of smoking-related causes shorten their lives by nearly 15 years.

Women's risk of lung disease
Compared to women who don't smoke, female smokers aged 35 or older are:

  • 14 times more likely to get lung cancer
  • Almost 13 times more likely to die from emphysema or bronchitis

Smoking increases pregnancy risks
Cigarette smoking during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for an unborn child. It passes nicotine to the fetus and decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches the placenta by as much as 25 percent.

  • Smoking during pregnancy accounts for 20 percent to 30 percent of low birthweight babies, up to 14 percent of pre term births, and about 10 percent of all infant deaths.
  • Maternal smoking has been linked to asthma in infants and young children.
  • Mothers who smoke and breast-feed their babies pass nicotine to their children through breast milk. Also, infants are more likely to get colds, earaches, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases if secondhand smoke is present in the home or day care center.
  • Research suggests that babies of mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy are two to three times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than babies born to nonsmoking mothers.

Other health risks
Below are additional facts from the American Lung Association about the health risks faced by women smokers:

  • Women who smoke double their risk of heart disease and increase their risk of certain cancers.
  • Postmenopausal women who smoke have lower bone density and a higher risk of hip fracture than women who never smoked.
  • Cigarette smoking causes skin wrinkling that makes smokers look less attractive and old before their time.
By Eric Leins, Staff Writer
Created on 11/16/1999
Updated on 11/17/2010
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette use among high school students - United States, 1991-2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2010;59(26):797-801.
  • American Lung Association. Women and tobacco use.
  • American Heart Association. Cigarette smoking statistics.
  • American Cancer Society. Women and smoking.
  • American Lung Association. Lung cancer factsheet.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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