By the HELP Committee
and Havre Public Schools
What everyone already knows is that smoking causes many dangerous health risks. It is the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States. More than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to smoking-related illnesses.
What you may not know is that women who smoke are at risk of additional and unique health problems. According to the surgeon general's 2001 Report on Women and Smoking, smoking contributes to infertility, anxiety, blindness and osteoporosis, to name just a few of the consequences.
The beginning: girls
Smoking is a habit that almost always begins in youth -usually before the age of 16. If a person graduates from high school without ever smoking regularly, he or she probably never will become a smoker. While boys and girls are equally likely to start smoking, the health implications for girls and women are worse. The surgeon general's report concludes that young women ages 18 to 24 were more likely than young men to develop symptoms of nicotine dependence.
Although girls and boys today have about the same chance of becoming smokers, this "equality" is a fairly recent phenomenon, and it didn't happen by chance. At the start of the 20th century, female smokers were rare. Smoking was equated with poor character and low social status. In fact, the stigma of women smoking was so great that Congress considered banning women from smoking in 1921.
In 1928, the president of the American Tobacco Co. said that persuading women to smoke "will be like opening a new gold mine in our front yard." American Tobacco targeted women with its "Instead of a sweet, reach for a smoke" advertising campaign. It worked. The rates of female smokers rapidly increased.
The introduction of "women's cigarettes" in the late 1960s and early 1970s coincided with the sharp increases in the number of girls ages 12 to 17 who began smoking, according to the surgeon general's report. Virginia Slims successfully capitalized on the growing women's movement with its slogan "You've come a long way, baby." Between 1967 and 1973, smoking rates more than doubled among 12-year-old girls. The marketers of cigarettes targeted girls in several ways. Marketing cigarettes as "slims" or "thins" subtly suggests to girls and women that smoking will help control weight. In addition, ads subliminally depict women smokers as beautiful, fun, independent, and "equal."
The present: a different
kind of 'equality'
Today, 21 percent of adult women in the United States smoke, compared with about 25 percent of men - but this gender gap is closing. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in two states, the percentage of women who smoke is slightly higher than the percentage of men: Maine and Montana.
Since 1987, lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. Smoking is directly responsible for 87 percent of all lung cancer cases in America each year. Smoking causes heart disease - the No. 1 killer of women in the United States.
Unfortunately, many women continue to smoke during pregnancy, despite the widely known hazards to the smoker and the unborn child. Estimates indicate that between 12 percent and 20 percent of pregnant women smoke. The carbon monoxide from tobacco use can reduce the amount of oxygen for the developing fetus and nicotine can reduce blood flow to the uterus. Pregnant women who smoke also increase the risk of stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight babies, and sudden infant death syndrome.
The future: It's never too late
While it is not possible to reverse all of the adverse health effects a smoker may presently suffer, it is possible to dramatically reduce the harms and risks. Here are just a few of the many health benefits that start the day you stop.
You will live longer. Women who die of a smoking-related illness have lived an average of 14.5 years less than their normal life expectancy.
You will be less likely to have a stroke. Women who are heavy smokers (two packs a day) are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke as women who do not smoke.
You will be less likely to have a heart attack. Women who smoke are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as women who do not.
You will be less likely to die of lung cancer. Lung cancer kills more women than any other cancer - and about nine out of 10 of these deaths are linked to smoking.
Your unborn child will be healthier. Women who smoke are more likely to have a stillborn child or an infant who dies from SIDS. Quitting will reduce the risk of low birth weight babies and premature births, and your baby will be less likely to suffer from asthma and respiratory problems.
Your family will be less likely to become ill. Secondhand tobacco smoke can kill spouses and children by increasing their risk of lung cancer and heart disease even if they never smoked.
You will be less likely to become blind. If you stop smoking, you will less likely to ever develop cataracts and you may reduce the risk of macular degeneration - two major causes of blindness.
You will be less likely to experience wrinkles. The surgeon general doesn't necessarily define wrinkles as a medical problem, but the 2001 report concludes that smokers have more facial wrinkles.
The benefits of quitting are worth the effort - for yourself, for your loved ones, and for your children. For assistance to quit smoking, contact your physician, or call the Montana Quit Line at (866) 485-7848. For more information about tobacco-related issues, contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206.