Washington, DC — Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the US, yet despite the well-documented negative health consequences, nearly one in five women still smoke. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) encourages women to abstain from smoking during the Great American Smokeout on November 17, 2011, and use that day as a starting point to quit smoking for good.
More than 71,000 women will die from lung cancer—the leading cause of cancer death among women—in 2011. Eighty percent of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking. Smoking shaves an average of 14.5 years off the lives of female smokers.
“In addition to a greatly increased risk of lung cancer, women smokers have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, emphysema, bronchitis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, infertility, early menopause, and more than 10 different cancers (including breast and cervical cancers) than nonsmokers,” said James N. Martin, Jr, MD, president of The College.
Pregnant women who smoke put their babies at a higher risk for preterm birth, low birth weight, placental abruption, sudden infant death syndrome, poor lung function, asthma, and bronchitis. The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are also passed through breast milk to babies. Exposure to secondary smoke has also been shown to be harmful.
Fortunately, smokers who quit can stop or reverse the damage caused by cigarettes. In the days and months after a person stops smoking, heart rate and blood pressure drop to healthier levels, and breathing, circulation, and sense of smell and taste may improve. Heart attack risk decreases by 50% after the first year of quitting, and the risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, and other ailments fall to nearly that of a nonsmoker in the first few years.
Pregnancy is often a great motivator to quit smoking. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2008, roughly 20% of pregnant women who smoked quit during pregnancy. “Women who stop smoking before 15 weeks of gestation receive the biggest maternal and fetal benefit,” said Dr. Martin. “Quitting in early pregnancy minimizes the risk of having a low birth weight baby caused by smoking during pregnancy.”
It takes most smokers several tries to successfully quit, and going “cold-turkey” can be extremely difficult because of nicotine withdrawal and cravings. There are a number of smoking cessation resources available. Smokers can call 800-QUIT-NOW, a free national smoking cessation hotline, to speak with trained counselors who will help develop individualized quit plans that fit each person’s unique smoking pattern. People who use telephone counseling are twice as likely to stop smoking as those who don’t get this type of intervention. Help from a counselor can keep quitters from making many common mistakes.
Women should talk to their doctor about methods that may increase the odds of permanently quitting, such as support groups, other local smoking cessation resources, and medical therapies. For nonpregnant women, nicotine replacement products that combat cravings (patches, gums, nasal sprays, etc) or medications (such as bupropion or varenicline), in combination with nicotine replacement, can double the chances of quitting. These methods have not been sufficiently evaluated for their safety or efficacy during pregnancy, however they can sometimes be used under close medical supervision.
For more information on the Great American Smokeout and smoking cessation, click here.
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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), a 501(c)(3) organization, is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 55,000 members, The College strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a 501(c)(6) organization, is its companion organization. www.acog.org