Tobacco use among women reaches new levels

Men are still more likely to smoke, but women are narrowing the gap. In some countries, young girls smoke more than young boys.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Aug. 14, 2006

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Women may have come a long way but, in regard to tobacco, they may be headed in the wrong direction. A new report raises the possibility of a global epidemic of female smoking -- and the associated morbidity and mortality -- unless measures to check it are taken.

The use of tobacco among women is rising sharply, according to the report, "Turning a New Leaf: Women, Tobacco and the Future," released July 13 by the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health and the International Network of Women Against Tobacco.

A briefing on the document was held during last month's World Conference on Tobacco OR Health, in Washington, D.C.

Although men are still much more likely to be smokers, women are catching up. Women make up 12% of the world's smokers, but will soon edge up to 20%, said Lorraine Greaves, executive director of the British Columbia center and president of the International Network.

Recent studies show that young girls are lighting up almost as frequently as young boys, and in some countries, girls smoke more. Also alarming, said the authors, is the increased use by women of hand-rolled cigarettes, along with smokeless tobacco and water pipes.

A perception that tobacco is a symbol of equality and independence also persists, write the report's authors, and tobacco manufacturers presume that increased equality for women will give momentum to its lure.

The report includes research on the many adverse health effects of smoking and their impact on women and men. For example, for many years different histological types of lung cancer developed on a gender basis. But that may have been due to the introduction of filter-tipped, lower-yield cigarettes that tended to be favored by more women than men. The milder product allowed smoke to be inhaled deeper into the lungs where adenocarcinomas develop.

Today, adenocarcinomas are found in men and women, suggesting that both now prefer similar cigarettes.

In addition, some studies indicate that women's lung cancer is diagnosed at an earlier age and others find that women respond better to treatment, regardless of the cancer's stage.

"A better understanding of sex and gender differences in lung cancer incidence and outcome will contribute to better prevention and treatment," noted Michele Bloch, MD, PhD, a medical officer at the National Cancer Institute's Tobacco Control Research Branch, writing for the report.

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External links

World Conference on Tobacco or Health (link)

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