Find Out! How Smoking Affects Women’s Health

women who smoke

Smoking, irrespective of your age and gender, is injurious to health. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of preventable diseases and death. According to a 2015 study, tobacco smoking is estimated to have killed around 100 million people[1]. The prevalence of tobacco use was found to be 47.2%. The prevalence rate of 54.4% is seen in rural women and around 40% in urban women. While the prevalence of smoking has fallen globally for women, it still exists. But for women, it carries additional risk factors. 

Moreover, the use of smokeless tobacco is quite common in Indian women, especially in the rural areas. About 26% of all adults in India use smokeless tobacco such as chewing, applying it to the teeth and gums or by sniffing, which is more prevalent than the use of various forms of smoking tobacco such as bidis and hookahs[2]. Given all these forms of smoking, it goes without saying that tobacco, be it in smokeless form, passive form or active form, has a huge impact on the overall well being of a woman. Here we explain the common ill effects of smoking on women’s health. 

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What Are The Effects Of Smoking On Women

Smoking can lead to a variety of conditions and can affect your entire body. It can lead to poor cardiovascular health and irregular changes in sex hormones[3]. Apart from these, smoking can lead to grave consequences in women such as premature pregnancy and ectopic pregnancy. It can also affect reproductive health and can up the risk of cervical cancer. Here’s some of the common health complications caused due to smoking in women.

Menstrual problems: Menstrual problems such as irregular periods, vaginal discharge/infections and abnormal bleeding are commonly reported in women who smoke. Some studies show that women who smoke face irregular bleeding and lead to painful periods[4]. It could be due to the effect of the chemicals in tobacco on the hormones which in turn lead to menstrual abnormalities. And as known, this can impact fertility in women and also the chances of getting pregnant.

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Fertility: Women who smoke are more likely to experience primary and secondary infertility and delays in conceiving as compared to non-smokers. This could be because of the presence of certain chemicals in cigarettes, like 1,3-Butadiene and benzene, which have been shown to harm the reproductive system and reduce fertility. Also, the chemicals in smoke can damage both the eggs and DNA (genetic material). This not only makes it harder to conceive but also poses a high possibility of congenital disabilities, ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. It also increases the chance of sudden infant death syndrome.

Early menopause: Women smokers are more prone to experiencing menopause earlier than those who don’t indulge in smoking[5]. Smokers often notice symptoms of menopause 2 – 3 years earlier than nonsmokers. And if this is coupled with unhealthy eating habits, sedentary lifestyle and risk of metabolic conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease, the chances of going through an early menopause increases further. Early menopause affects the production of the estrogen and other ovarian hormones. This in the long run can lead to mood swings and increased risk of heart disease, bone loss, sexual dysfunction as well as early mortality[6]. 

Cardiovascular diseases: Cigarette smoke is a mix of over 7,000 chemicals and breathing these chemicals can damage nearly any part of the body including the heart. Smoking not only affects the blood circulation but also increases the risk of thickening of the blood vessels which can put you at risk of atherosclerosis. It can also put you at risk of high blood pressure and lead to poor heart health. Many studies have reported that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack[7].

Weight gain: Women gain more weight than men during attempted smoking cessation. Also, women of older age gain more weight than younger individuals. Weight gain during cessation is related to significant increases in both fat and muscle mass[8]. So it is better to quit smoking during your younger years, if you smoke, as it increases the chances of maintaining a healthy weight along with cutting down the health risks associated with smoking and obesity.

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Apart from these adverse reproductive issues, smoking can also affect physical appearance which includes the appearance of bags under the eyes, bad breath, yellowing of teeth, changes in skin texture and thinning hair to name a few. While you cannot smoke tobacco safely, the only option to stay protected from its ill effects is to quit smoking. Alternatively, you can try different smoking cessation techniques for leading a healthier life. Quitting smoking can reverse some of the harmful effects as well so give it a thought!

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)

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1. Tiwari RV, Gupta A, Agrawal A, et al. Women and Tobacco Use: Discrepancy in the Knowledge, Belief and Behavior towards Tobacco Consumption among Urban and Rural Women in Chhattisgarh, Central India. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2015;16(15):6365-73.

2. Shah S, Dave B, Shah R, Mehta TR, Dave R. Socioeconomic and cultural impact of tobacco in India. J Family Med Prim Care. 2018 Nov-Dec;7(6):1173-1176.

3. Allen A, Oncken C, Hatsukami D. Women and Smoking: The Effect of Gender on the Epidemiology, Health Effects, and Cessation of Smoking. Current Addiction Reports. 2014;1(1):53-60.

4. Windham, G. (1999). Cigarette smoking and effects on menstrual function. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 93(1), pp.59-65.

5. Yang H, Suh P, Kim S, Lee S. Effects of Smoking on Menopausal Age: Results From the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007 to 2012. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. 2015;48(4):216-224.

6. Faubion SS, Kuhle CL, Shuster LT, Rocca WA. Long-term health consequences of premature or early menopause and considerations for management. Climacteric. 2015;18(4):483-91. 

7. New Surgeon Generalʼs Report: Exposure to Tobacco Smoke Causes Immediate Damage. Oncology Times. 2011;33(1):13-14.

8. Audrain-McGovern, J. and Benowitz, N. (2011). Cigarette Smoking, Nicotine, and Body Weight. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 90(1), pp.164-168.

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