Smoking Reduces a Woman's Life Expectancy by 10 Years

As a general rule when it comes to health, women are far better off than men. Prior to menopause, their risk of heart disease and stroke is substantially less than men, and the numbers of cancers occurring in both sexes is significantly lower. But when it comes to addiction, women do not do as well. Overcoming drug addiction, alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking is much more difficult. 

Until recently, the negative effects of smoking had only been studied in detail in men. For the first time, a study in the journal The lancet has shown that smoking reduces the life expectancy of women by an average of 10 years. The findings were obtained from ” The Million Women Study” conducted in Britain. The study includes 1.2 million women between the ages of 50 and 69 who at the time of this report have been followed for a total of 12 years. At the onset of the study and 3 years later, they were asked questions about lifestyle and habits. During the 12-year period a total of 60,000 women had died. At the start of the study, 20 percent of the women were smokers, 28 percent were previous smokers and 52 percent never smoked. 

The risk of death in those continuing to smoke at the 3-year mark was three times higher than those who had never smoked. And the more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk. In those who smoked 1-9 cigarettes daily, the risk of death was twice as high as nonsmokers. The authors of this paper conclude that smoking-related illnesses including lung disease, lung cancer, heart disease and stroke accounted for 66 percent of all deaths amongst women between the ages of 60 and 80. Because women only began smoking in earnest after 1940, this is the first study that clearly demonstrates that the long-term negative effects of smoking in women are no different than in men.

The study clearly showed the great benefits of quitting smoking. In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Rachel Huxley from the University of Minnesota notes that women who stop smoking in their 40s reduced the negative effects of smoking by 90 percent, and discontinuing in their 30s essentially eradicated the risk completely. Most importantly, the effects of nicotine on the heart quickly disappear after quitting smoking. Not only are the number of heart attacks and strokes reduced but fatalities decrease as well. It is never too late to stop.

Sadly most women start smoking in their teens and are less likely to stop than young men. Some believe that many women are reluctant to quit because of weight gain concerns. However, being overweight is far less risky than smoking, and strategies are readily available to help anyone stop smoking while providing useful tools for improving lifestyle that, through better nutrition and exercise, will minimize the chances of gaining weight.

There is not a single smoker who does not want to quit. Unfortunately, nicotine is truly addictive. There are many smoking cessation programs that are now covered by most insurance policies. Nicotine replacement therapies, including patches and pills, are effective. In addition a prescription medication, Chantix can reduce the need to smoke as can the antidepressant Buprion. Many hospitals offer highly effective smoking cessation programs that include counseling and support groups. Most research indicates that the best way to quit is to set a date and stop “cold turkey.” And here nicotine patches or a support group may prove very helpful. 

The best approach by far is to never start in the first place. Thank goodness the “adult, macho and sophisticated image of smoking that appeal so much to teenagers have largely be dispelled. And the marketing of cigarettes to young people no long occurs. Despite nationwide antismoking campaigns and the reduction in advertising, too many young people continue to smoke.

Whether a smoker or not, we all have a responsibility to maintaining a smoke-free environment for ourselves and our children, and to understand that smoking is an addiction and bad for our health. We must stay committed to a public health campaign that continually encourages our children and grandchildren to never smoke..

Dr. David Lipschitz is the director of the Dr. David Health and Wellness Center in Little Rock. To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz, visit