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The Smoking Gun: Cigarettes, women, and why quitting matters
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You might be surprised to hear that there are women with heart disease who still smoke cigarettes. Or that women with heart disease continue to live or work with people who smoke, thereby breathing in unhealthy doses of secondhand smoke on a daily basis that can seriously affect their heart function. Either way, it’s a recipe for disaster, because female smokers are more likely to have heart attacks at an earlier age than male smokers and as much as 14 years earlier than nonsmoking women.

Smoking is a major concern for women also because of increased health risks associated with birth control pills, and women who smoke tend to hit menopause — when heart disease risk already increases — several years earlier than women who don’t smoke.

But don’t fewer people smoke these days?

It’s true that there has been a drop in smoking in the overall population as cigarette taxes increase and more public spaces, restaurants, and bars go smoke-free; the most recent research shows that about 20% of adult Americans say that they smoke — 23% of men and 18% of women. However, 90% of smokers start the habit as teenagers, and, although teen smoking was on the decline beginning in the late 1990s, more recent
studies show it to be rising again, with nearly a quarter of high school students identifying themselves as smokers. Just 10 years ago, 30% of girls who were high school seniors were already smokers; it’s likely that those girls picked up the habit from a parent, since only 2% of smokers come from households where the parents do not smoke.

The good news is that if young smokers quit by the time they’re 35, they can actually add 6 or more years to their lifespan. Even long-term smokers who quit at age 65 can increase their life expectancy by as much as 4 years.

It’s time to call it quits — and the Great American Smokeout in November is a good time to start.

The Great American Smokeout began over 30 years ago so that smokers could schedule a day off from tobacco, getting support from friends and other smokers throughout the day.

There is no time like the present. If you smoke, you need to quit. If you live with someone who smokes, you need to help that person quit, for the health of everybody in the household. If you already have heart disease, then you know that this is a necessity, and if you are at risk for heart disease, you can possibly avoid a future heart attack or stroke by tossing those cigarettes out of your life now.

Quitting is not easy. Nicotine, the chemical found in tobacco, is an addictive drug, and was characterized by the Surgeon General in 1988 as similar "to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.” Despite its challenges, people successfully quit every day, through a variety of methods, including the use of a nicotine patch or chewing gum, acupuncture, hypnosis, exercise, or going "cold turkey” — although many doctors do not
recommend the cold turkey method, instead advising patients to taper off gradually so as to lessen withdrawal symptoms.

Talk with your healthcare provider about what methods could work for you and get started. You’ve come a long way, baby!


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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the nearly 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a founding partner of The Heart Truth Red Dress campaign. The Heart Truth and Red Dress are trademarks of HHS.