Women and smoking

"Cigarette smoking is harmful to health,” this warning is put on cigarette packets and all advertisements of cigarettes, due to multiple health problems caused by it. In spite of messages of this kind, about a billion people the world over smoke.

Smoking was originally considered as a manly pursuit and, “respectable women did not even touch it”. But in later years, with women activism and freedom movements, many women also started smoking. The number is gradually increasing. Many urban women smoke at par with men, showing they are no less than men in any way.

These women give scant thought to the fact that smoking is much more damaging to women as compared to men. The younger generation of girls emulates this habit, thus injuring their health.

The first harmful effect of smoking is on the beauty of a woman. The lips and finger tips assume a blackish colour.  There is premature wrinkling of the skin and it looks lusterless. Chronic gum disease can occur, resulting in bone, gum and teeth loss. There can be bad odour from the mouth, which can put off a partner of a young woman.

Smoking can impair fertility of a young woman.  Even if she conceives, there is high risk of abortion.  If the pregnancy continues, there is a risk of intrauterine death, premature delivery and underweight baby. The baby may develop congenital abnormalities, while in the mother’s womb.

Women who smoke have early menopause, as compared to those who do not smoke. They also suffer greater bone loss, as bone density is affected by smoking.  This fact, along with damage to blood vessels of limbs caused by smoking, can lead to chronic leg pains and difficulty in walking. Nicotine present in cigarettes is toxic to the brain and eyes. Due to smoking, a woman is prone to develop visual disturbances in a young age, and can even develop blindness in middle age or after. In old age, she is more susceptible to develop brain atrophy, resulting in difficulty in walking, memory loss and other cognitive disturbances.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease, affecting middle aged women. There is intermittent pain, stiffness and swelling of multiple joints of the body. Heart, lungs, eyes and other body parts are also affected.  Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease. Smoking happens to be one of the trigger factors for this disease. Smoking precipitates and aggravates rheumatoid arthritis.

After menopause, women become more prone to hypertension and heart diseases, due to reduced levels of estrogen.  Smoking increases the vulnerability and risk, as it is an independent risk factor for high blood pressure and heart problems.

Apart from these hazards, smoking causes other health issues in women as well as men, like chronic lung diseases and respiratory problems, cancers, and etcetera. Children of these women have a greater risk of developing these problems from a young age. This happens because they are exposed to cigarette smoke passively in the vicinity of their mothers.

As one smokes regularly, she becomes addicted to smoking due to presence of nicotine and other addictive chemicals in the cigarette. Then she cannot quit smoking, even after realising that it is affecting her health adversely. Therefore, ideally, women should be careful not to pick this bad habit. Even if one has started it inadvertently, it should be quit as early as possible. 

Women who find it difficult to give up smoking can reduce the number of cigarettes smoked per day.  Taking up creative past time activities in the time for smoking, eating something harmless like peanuts when the craving is strong, are some measures that can help one to avoid smoking.

Medicines are available, which help one to overcome the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms which arise after quitting smoking. Professional counsellors can help in this regard.

 Dr Rachna Pande,                 

Specialist, internal medicine


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