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Women and Smoking

by Dr. Eva Bell
(Bangalore)

Though the incidence of smoking has decreased in countries like US, Japan and Europe, it is still high in developing countries. Tobacco kills more than 5 million people worldwide annually and according to predictions, it is likely to escalate to 8 million by 2030. What is truly alarming is the rise in female smokers. In India alone there are a crore of women smokers. In China it is 1.3 crores, and in the US it is as high as 2.3 crores. The age at which women start smoking has also decreased. Many begin to experiment in their early teens. This may be due to the influence of peer groups or because they want to flaunt their independence. Smoking is high among single mothers probably because they believe that smoking reduces stress and tension.


When smoking is combined with alcohol, improper food and eating habits and sedentary occupations, it leads to premature ageing by about 12 years.

Tobacco derives its botanical name Nicotania Tabaccum from the Island of Tobago and the name of a French diplomat who first introduced it to Europe. It is hazardous to health because it contains about 4000 chemicals and volatile oils, of which Nicotine is the agent of addiction. Though carbon monoxide and hydrocyanic acid is present in very small amounts, carbon monoxide when combined with nicotine makes it more addictive. Smokers claim to feel relaxed after a smoke, and this makes them work better. But in the long run, there is a decline in efficiency.

Health hazards in women are greater than in men. The Female to Male Relative Risk Ratio is about 25% higher in women. Various studies have shown that women extract a greater quantity of carcinogens or toxic agents from the same number of cigarettes as men. This may be due to physiological differences between the sexes, with toxins having a more potent effect on women.

Effects of smoking:

• Women smokers are known to suffer from a high rate of depression and mental health problems.

• Cardiovascular system: Smoking may lead to high blood pressure, heart rate may increase, blood thickens and is likely to form clots. As a result, Coronary Heart Disease is common. The longer the woman smokes the higher the risk.
Peripheral vasoconstriction results in to lesser blood flow to the extremities leading to a painful condition called Thrombo Anginitis Obliterans.(TAO)

• Respiratory System: Chronic cough, Bronchitis, Asthma, Emphysema and lung cancer are known complications of excessive smoking. Chemicals from the cigarette act on the lining of lung cells and make them spinout of control and become cancerous.

• Gastro-intestinal Tract: Cancer of the lips, excessive salivation, loss of taste can occur. Due to chronic pharyngitis and laryngitis there may be a change in voice. Hence those who sing professionally are advised to stay away from cigarettes, because smoke damages the vocal cords.

Gastric ulcers are common. They do not heal well because smoking hinders effective medication. Smoking increases motility of the colon. Hence smokers experience a laxative effect.

• Eyes: There may be irritation of conjunctiva and excessive tear formation. In chronic smokers there is blurring of vision especially in sunlight. Damage to the retina may
also occur.

• Reproduction: Some British studies say that the chances of pregnancy is reduced by 40%. Women may take longer to conceive. There is a greater chance of miscarriages.

Babies born to smoking mothers are prone to asthmatic attacks. Birth weight may be low. Malformations like harelip and cleft palate can occur.

According to Dr. Judith Brooks there is a disturbance in the neurophysiologic function of the foetus. This was confirmed by a study in Finland. Smoking by a pregnant mother causes brain and behavioural disorders in children. They tend to be aggressive, hyperactive and suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD.) Later in life they may even get addicted to drugs or stimulants.

Maternal smoking is the biggest baby killer. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome(SIDS) is more common in infants born to smoking mothers. “Smoking may impair cortical arousal pathways of seemingly normal infants, which may increase the risk of SIDS,” says Rosemary Horne of the Baby Health Research centre of Monash University, Melbourne.

The right to a smoke-free childhood is a basic human right. Even passive smoking (growing up in an atmosphere where parents or members of the family smoke) has a deleterious effect on children. There is a higher rate of ADHD, headache or stuttering. As they grow older, passive smoking has a negative effect on their general health, learning and cognitive development. They may show disruptive behaviour in school.

Deafness is another complication. Passive smoking may reduce blood supply to the small bones of the middle ear especially the cochlea, which causes loss of hearing.

Professor Robert Booy, Director of research at the Sydney Children’s Hospital discovered that smokers carry the deadly meningococcus bacteria in the back of their throats. When cuddling and kissing infants, they can transmit this bacteria to their children, who might then suffer from other medical problems.

Smoking is an addiction difficult to break. Withdrawal symptoms are restlessness and irritability and craving for a nicotine fix. It takes courage and determination to break free. Pregnant women should bear in mind that smoking causes complications in their infants. Smoking cannot be stopped in fits and starts, neither is it much use to try and stop gradually. An odd puff now and again will only increase the desire to smoke.

- Tobacco causes disability, disease and death. Being aware of its harmful effects on one’s health and that of one’s children should be a deterrent to smoking.

- It needs will power to stop. No attempts to stop should be made when one is passing through a period of stress.

- Some people use nicotine patches to stave off sudden withdrawal symptoms.

- Gargling with 1% copper sulphate solution will render the taste of cigarettes unpleasant for a few hours.

- Stimulants like coffee, tea or alcohol should be avoided during the period when attempts are made to stop smoking.

- Weight gain is usually reported when people stop smoking. This can be controlled by a healthy diet of vegetables, salads, fruits and exercise.

Smoking is a health hazard not only to one’s self but to those around you. Women should seriously consider the ill effects before they light the next cigarette.


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Dec 22, 2011
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Very Useful Articles
by: Geetashree Chatterjee

Please do write an article on Endometriosis.

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