Smoking adds an even greater heart disease risk to women than it does to men. Women smokers suffer a greater risk of heart disease than do men, by 25 percent (Huxley and Woodward, 2011).
Women smokers run this greater risk even though they smoke fewer cigarettes on average than male smokers do. Either gender-related sensitivity to toxins or gender differences in smoking behaviors, or both, put women at more risk.
Other research showing greater risks to female non-smokers from second hand smoke (Bolego, 2002) seems to tip the scale in the direction of blaming yet-unidentified differences in male and female physiology.
The Million Women Study conducted in the United Kingdom (Pirie, 2012) showed that even women who consider themselves just “social smokers,” and not regular, pack-a-day users, run substantial risk nevertheless. Even smoking just a few cigarettes a day doubled the risk of heart disease death above that of women who had never smoked.
The same study showed that the earlier a woman started smoking in her life, and the more years she smoked, the greater the excess heart disease risk she ran compared to that of a man. For every year that a woman continued smoking, her risk of developing a heart condition increased at a 2 percent higher rate than that of same-aged men. That’s 2 percent extra risk, added each and every year a woman smokes, beyond the already high risk run by men who smoke.
Thankfully, this massive study underscored the fact that stopping smoking works extraordinarily well at reversing these deadly trends. When women stop all use of tobacco by age 30, they go on to normal life expectancies, avoiding essentially all of the excess mortality that smoking causes. If they do not quit until age 40, they still can avoid more than 90 percent of the excess death risk. But with each passing year beyond that, some risk remains.
Quitting at any point in one’s life helps, and it never becomes too late to achieve benefits from quitting. But beyond 40, women who smoked seemed to come near a “tipping point,” after which some risk will remain the rest of their life. Still, these residual risks pale in comparison to the risk of continued smoking (for example, a 20 percent increased lifetime heart disease risk if a woman quits at age 40 compared to a 200 percent increased risk if she continues).
Once addicted, “knowing better” does not automatically lead to “doing better.” Speak the truth to your daughters, nieces, and any young women in your lives. Let them know that despite tobacco’s false advertising targeting women, this habit places an unfair burden of disease and death on women.
References: 1. Huxley RR, Woodward M, “Cigarette Smoking Is A Risk Factor For Coronary Heart Disease In Women Compared With Men” Lancet 2011 October 8; 378 (9799):1297-305. 2. Pirie K, Peto R, “The 21st Century Hazards Of Smoking And Benefits Of Stopping: A Prospective Study Of 1 Million Women In The United Kingdom,” Lancet 2012 October 26 (12) 61720-6. 3. Huxley RR, Woodward M, “Full Hazards of Smoking and Benefits of Stopping for Women,” (commentary) Lancet 2012 October 27.4. Bolego C, Poli A, Paoletti R. Smoking and gender,” Cardiovascular Research. 2002;53(3):568-576.