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Women and Smoking

An Epidemic...

In March 2001, the Office of the US Surgeon General released a long-awaited, detailed report entitled Women and Smoking, along with the following statement:

"When calling attention to public health problems, we must not misuse the word 'epidemic.' But there is no better word to describe the 600-percent increase since 1950 in women's death rates for lung cancer, a disease primarily caused by cigarette smoking. Clearly, smoking-related disease among women is a full-blown epidemic." - David Satcher, MD, PhD

Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking-related diseases caused the deaths of about 178,000 women in each year from 1995-1999. On average, these women died 14.5 years earlier because they smoked.

The most recent CDC survey (from 2004) showed that about 1 in 5 American women (19%) smoked cigarettes. The highest rates were seen among American-Indian and Alaska-Native women (29%), followed by white (20%), African-American (17%), Hispanic (11%), and Asian women (5%). The less education a woman has, the more likely she will smoke. For instance, women with less than a high school education are twice as likely to smoke as college graduates.

Overall, women are less likely to smoke than men, but a disturbing trend is that smoking is more popular among younger than older women. About 22% of women ages 18 to 44 smoke, whereas only about 8% of women 65 and over do. As these younger women age, they will have more smoking-related illness and disability.

Women who smoke typically begin as teenagers - usually before high school graduation. And the younger a girl is when she starts, the more heavily she is likely to use tobacco as an adult. Teenage girls are just as likely to smoke as are boys. The most recent CDC survey (from 2004) showed that 22% of female high school students and 9% of girls in middle school had smoked at least one cigarette in the past 30 days.