Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH)
Smoking: It’s Never too Late to Quit But Women May Find it’s Harder
Smoking is an unhealthy habit that harms the body from head to toe, and the consequences for women are especially troubling:
- Women smokers are more likely than men smokers to die of lung cancer, and they also have a higher risk for developing breast cancer.
- Women smokers who use oral contraceptives risk serious health effects such as blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Smoking causes wrinkles, bad breath, tooth discoloration, and oral cancer.
- Smoking even affects a woman’s eyes, putting her at higher risk for vision problems later in life like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Thanks to smoking bans in public places, higher taxes on cigarettes, and medications that help people quit, tobacco use in the United States has dropped – by nearly 30 percent in the past decade alone. Despite this substantial progress, however, about 20 percent of Americans (18 percent of women and 23 percent of men) still light up.
More than 80 percent of adult smokers took their first puff as teenagers. Girls and boys start smoking for many different reasons – often because family or friends do it – and no one expects to become addicted to nicotine, the substance in tobacco that creates cravings. While it’s better not to start smoking in the first place, it’s also never too late to quit. No matter when a woman decides to quit smoking, her health will benefit.
It’s important to know that smoking affects women and men differently, and these differences influence the ability to quit. For example, research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that while men are more sensitive than women to nicotine’s effects on the body, women are more susceptible than men to smoking sensory triggers like smell and taste, as well as to social cues.
The research suggests that these differences have to do with how women’s and men’s bodies respond to nicotine, and the findings help explain why nicotine patches and gums don’t work as well in women as they do in men. Research also shows that what does work better for women than men trying to quit is cognitive–behavioral therapy that focuses not only on quitting smoking but also on related issues such as controlling quitting-associated weight gain and moderating mood effects.
Tobacco is the single most important cause of preventable disease and death. Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions a woman can make toward a healthier tomorrow for herself and her family.
Janine Austin Clayton, M.D.
Director, Office of Research on Women’s Health
Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health, NIH
Department of Health and Human Services