Historically in the United States, smoking rates among women have been all over the map.
Prior to and during the early nineteenth century, women who smoked were rare. But over the years, the number of women smoking and the subsequent health effects have soared.
We know advertising has played a huge role in this, but are there other things about women that make us more likely to decide to smoke and more at risk for hazardous consequences? Let’s have a look.
10 Facts about women and smoking:
1. It used to be frowned upon.
Prior to the 1920s, few women smoked. Smoking was considered a dirty and immoral pastime, especially for women. With the role changes brought about by World War I, the women’s suffrage movement, and aggressive advertising on the part of tobacco companies, women responded and smoking rates began to rise.
2. “It will be like opening a gold mine right in our front yard.”
George Washington Hill, the American Tobacco Co. president, said this in 1928.
One of the most famous and earliest tobacco ads aimed directly at women? Lucky Strike’s campaign directing women to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” No surprise that the targeting of women by tobacco companies resulted in higher smoking rates.
Between 1929 and 1935, the number of cigarettes purchased by women tripled. Rates continued to rise until reaching its peak in 1965.
3. “You’ve come a long way, baby”… or maybe not.
The tobacco company campaigns toward women have been relentless. By using gender stereotypes and falsely associating smoking with beauty, thinness, sexiness, glamour, prestige, independence and freedom, women have been lured into an addictive trap.
The Virginia Slims campaign has used the cigarette as a symbol of power, equality, upper mobility and freedom using slogans like “It’s a woman thing” and “Find your voice.”
Women are a huge target of industry marketing.
4. Too many.
Nearly 14 percent of American women are current smokers. That’s about one in seven.
Smoking rates in women have declined during the past 50 years, from 33.2 percent to 13.6 percent, which is significant.
Still, we have a long way to go.
5. The habit is picked up young.
About 7 percent of high school girls identify themselves as cigarette smokers and 1.8 percent of middle school girls are current smokers.
We know that most adult smokers started as teens. The younger a girl is when she starts, the more likely she is to smoke heavily as an adult.
We are also seeing a huge rise in the use of electronic products like vapes, e-cigs, and hookah pens among teens. The problem with this is we don’t know the long-term health effects and teens who use these products are three times more likely to move on to conventional cigarettes.
6. Girls start smoking for different reasons than boys.
Many girls have the false belief that smoking is a good way to control weight.
Low self-esteem is also associated with adolescent girl smoking. All that false advertising gives girls the wrong idea about what smoking can do for you.
7. Tobacco use causes 1 in 3 cancer deaths.
And women who smoke are 13 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who don’t.
Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death for women, surpassing breast cancer deaths. It also increases the risk of many other cancers, including cervical and ovarian.
8. Women’s health seems to be affected more than men’s health.
Smoking greatly affects fertility and pregnancy.
It is known to cause infertility, difficulty in conceiving for women, and also ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg doesn’t make it out of the fallopian tubes.
Decreased bone density, early menopause and worsened symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease are also considerable risks for women who smoke.
9. Babies born to smokers have a higher risk of birth defects.
These include heart defects, cleft lip or palate, and others.
Many of the 7,500-plus toxic chemicals in smoke are known to cause birth defects.
These babies are also at greater risk for low-birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome than babies born to non-smoking mothers.
10. Worldwide, women comprise 64 percent of the deaths from secondhand smoke.
These are women who don’t actually smoke themselves, but are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work.
They end up inhaling all those same chemicals that the smoker does.