Tobacco use and health. Part 4: Women and Smoking

Disclaimer: This post is based on the eponymous US CDC fact sheet, hence contains statistics that are accurate for the US, but not elsewhere. However, the overall messages and risks are likely to be true across all countries.

Key Messages:

The risk of a woman dying from smoking is now equal to men’s risk.

Currently more than 20 million women and girls in the US smoke cigarettes. Smoking puts them at risk for:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attacks
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
  • Other serious chronic illnesses such as Diabetes 

More than 170,000 American women die of diseases caused by smoking each year, with additional deaths coming from the use of other tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco.

The women most likely to smoke today are among the most vulnerable— those disadvantaged by low income, less education, and mental health disorders. Women in these groups are also less likely to quit smoking when they become pregnant and are more likely to start smoking again after delivery. This worsens the dangerous health effects from smoking on mothers and their children.

1. Disease and women smokers

Between 1959 and 2010, lung cancer risk for smokers rose dramatically. While men’s risk doubled, the risk among female smokers increased nearly ten-fold. Today, more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer.

2. Respiratory diseases

Women smokers in certain age groups are up to 38 times more likely to develop COPD than women who have never smoked. More women than men are now dying every year from COPD, and women appear more susceptible to developing severe COPD at younger ages.


3. Cardiovascular disease

Today, women over age 35 who smoke have a slightly higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease than men who smoke. They are also slightly more likely to die from an abdominal aortic aneurysm—a weakened and bulging area of the artery that runs through the abdomen and carries blood to the major organs—than men who smoke.

4. Smoking and pregnancy

Smoking during pregnancy causes

  • premature birth,
  • low birth weight,
  • certain birth defects, and
  • ectopic pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants somewhere in the abdomen other than the womb.

Smoking during pregnancy also causes complications with the placenta, the organ through which nutrients pass from mother to fetus. These complications include

  • placenta previa and
  • placental abruption, conditions that jeopardize the life and health of both mother and child.

Women who are pregnant or who are planning a pregnancy should not smoke. It’s important to encourate women to quit smoking before or early in pregnancy, when the most health benefits can be achieved, but cessation in all stages, even in late pregnancy, benefits maternal and fetal health.

Useful Links:

Link to the US CDC fact sheet on women and smoking:

Link to US CDC infographic on pregnancy and cleft lip:

Link to CDC infographic on smoking (among women) and COPD

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