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The Risks of Smoking to Women's Health

The Risks of Smoking to Women's Health

More than 7,000 chemicals are found in tobacco smoke, 250 of which are harmful to health, with 69 of those known to cause cancer. This is why the tobacco industry is strictly regulated. The risks of smoking for women and men are high, often leading to significant damage to the lungs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco smoking is one of the major public health threats around the world. The WHO estimates that over eight million people are killed by tobacco each year. Seven million of those cases are people who directly use tobacco, while the rest are non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke.

What are the risks of smoking for women?

The WHO reported in December 2019 that the efforts to curb smoking are gaining ground, with users falling by 60 million in the past two decades. This has been largely driven by a decline in the number of female tobacco users. From 346 million in 2000, the number is down to 244 million as of 2018.

This is welcome development, especially as smoking has specific health risks to women. As the United States Food and Drug Administration notes, breathing in the deadly mix of chemicals present in tobacco smoke will affect many parts of the body, but the risks of smoking in women are unique and damaging, causing cardiovascular and reproductive issues, as well as cancer.

Risks of smoking for women: Cancer

A 2016 study showed that women who smoke 10 packs of cigarettes for multiple years are at greater risk of having advanced colorectal neoplasia, compared to men who consume 30 or more packs annually.

Studies also suggest that smoking increases the risk of HPV progressing into high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).

CIN is also known as cervical dysplasia, which is a condition wherein abnormal cell growth on the cervix. This could potentially lead to cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer: All You Need to Know

Cardiovascular diseases

Male and female smokers are both at risk of coronary heart disease.But women are 25% more likely to experience this. Researchers are still studying the links, but theorize that elevated levels of biochemicals such fasting insulin and glucose, free testosterone, and higher blood pressure and heart rate are contributing factors.


According to research, female smokers have higher rates of asthma regardless of weight, whereas this is observed in male smokers who are underweight or of normal weight.


Compared to non-smokers, women who smoke may experience incontinence, finding it difficult to control their urination and bowel movements. The incontinence symptoms of female smokers are also greater compared to their male peers.


Though has not been established whether smoking directly decreases bone density, it does raise risk factors that can affect bone health and increases the risk of osteoporosis.

Other factors that affect bone health are higher alcohol consumption, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and early menopause of smokers. The WHO also noted that studies have discovered lower bone densities among postmenopausal women who smoke.

The Harvard Medical School, meanwhile, reported the earlier onset of menopause among female smokers.

Studies have also found that among female smokes the rate of bone loss is faster with higher fracture rates. This is caused by lower estrogen levels and chemicals found in tobacco and smoke, which prevent the proper absorption of needed nutrients by the bone.

Risks of smoking for women’s reproductive health and Pregnancy

Female cigarette smokers or those who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke face a host of reproductive health challenges. The WHO noted that women smokers are more at risk for primary and secondary infertility and delays in conception.

Those who become pregnant have a higher risk of pregnancy-related complications such as premature rupture of membranes, placenta previa (partial or total obstruction by the placenta of the cervical os), preterm delivery, miscarriage, and preeclampsia.

Female smokers also give birth to smaller and lighter infants, and experience higher rates of stillbirth, congenital malformation, and perinatal mortality.

Other health risks of smoking for women

The WHO added that smoking increases the risk of women developing non-life threatening conditions that may still impact their quality of life such as periodontal disease, gallbladder disease, peptic ulcer, some forms of cataract, and facial wrinkling.

There is also a strong association between smoking and depression among women, which needs to be further studied.

Key Takeaways

Whether you’ve been a long-time smoker or not, giving up the habit has immediate health benefits. For instance, the risk of coronary heart disease is cut by up to 50% within one to two years.

Risks of stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and lung cancer have also been observed to decrease among people who give up this habit, the WHO reported.

After understanding the risks of smoking for women, those interested in kicking the habit may seek counselling or medical intervention.

To stay committed, you can do the following:

  • listing down the reasons for quitting
  • setting a stop date
  • being disciplined in avoiding cigarettes
  • being mindful of certain food and drinks that trigger cravings,
  • seeking support from loved ones
  • using alternative sources of nicotine such as patches and gums

Learn more about healthy habits, here.

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Tobacco https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco Accessed 25 May 2020

Smoking: A Women’s Health Issue https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-information/smoking-womens-health-issue Accessed 25 May 2020

Women and Smoking: The Effect of Gender on the Epidemiology, Health Effects, and Cessation of Smoking https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4871621/Accessed 25 May 2020

Smoking and Bone Health https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/bone-smoking Accessed 25 May 2020

Eight for 2008: Eight things you should know about osteoporosis and fracture risk https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/eight-for-2008-eight-things-you-should-know-about-osteoporosis-and-fracture-risk Accessed 25 May 2020

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Written by Mary Meysil Carreon Updated Oct 28, 2020
Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, M.D.