World No Tobacco Day: Understanding Why Women Face Greater Health Risks From Tobacco – HerZindagi English

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The warning ‘Smoking is harmful to health’ is a familiar warning, seen on cigarette packs, in advertisements, and emphasised by healthcare professionals. Despite this widespread awareness, many individuals struggle to break free from the habit. Smoking doesn’t just affect the smoker; it also impacts those in their social circle and their overall well-being. However, the repercussions of smoking are particularly notable for women, who face unique challenges and health risks.

In addition to the well-known association between smoking and various cancers, women are at a heightened risk of cervical cancer, as noted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG).

According to research conducted by organisations like the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, National Family Health Survey, and National Sample Survey up to 2012, the prevalence of smoking among women in India has steadily increased over the decades. In 1980, only 2.2 percent of women above the age of 15 were smokers, but this number has doubled with each passing decade. Projections by the World Health Organisation suggest that by 2025, around 20 percent of women in India could be smokers.

To gain further insight into this issue, we spoke with Dr. Shalini Agrawal, a gynaecologist at Max Hospital, Dwarka. Dr. Agrawal shared valuable perspectives on why women face increased health risks from tobacco use.


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Why Women Face Greater Health Risks From Tobacco

Smoking Affects Fertility

Dr. Shalini warns against the detrimental effects of smoking on women’s reproductive health, highlighting the increased risk of infertility, miscarriages, and ectopic pregnancies. She told us, “Smoking during pregnancy can result in pre-term birth, low birth weight, and intrauterine growth restriction due to reduced placental blood flow and impaired fetal brain development.”

smoking infertility

Moreover, Dr. Shalini explains that smoking during pregnancy increases the production of catecholamines, raising the risks of stillbirth, neonatal death, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), even if the mother quits smoking upon conception.

Mental Health Risks of Smoking

Research indicates that women who smoke are at a heightened risk of experiencing mental health issues. According to a study featured in the Journal of Women’s Health, female smokers showed notably elevated rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), thoughts of suicide, and substance use.

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Many smokers express a desire to quit, yet some persist due to the belief that smoking alleviates stress and anxiety. However, contrary to popular belief, smoking actually exacerbates feelings of anxiety and tension. Dr. Shalini explained that when smokers go without a cigarette for a period, cravings intensify, leading to irritability and anxiety. Lighting up a cigarette temporarily alleviates these feelings, leading smokers to associate improved mood with smoking. However, it’s the effects of smoking itself that likely initially caused the anxiety.

Smoking And Pregnancy

Smoking can significantly impact a woman’s ability to conceive and can pose serious risks to the health of her baby if she becomes pregnant. Dr. Shalini highlights that smoking during pregnancy can lead to various complications for the baby which are:

  • Higher risk of premature birth.
  • Increased likelihood of serious birth defects, such as cleft lip or cleft palate.
  • Lower chance of achieving a healthy birth weight.
  • Impaired brain development before birth and during early childhood.
  • Elevated risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

smoking cancer

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Smoking Can Lead To Cancer

People who smoke are at a higher risk of developing various cancers, including lung, pancreatic, kidney, liver, throat, bladder, and colorectal cancers. However for women, it’s crucial to undergo regular pelvic exams that include pap smears, but this necessity is even more significant for women who smoke, as smoking doubles the risk of cervical cancer.

Dr. Shalini emphasises that tobacco damages the DNA cells of the cervix, contributing to cancer development. Moreover, smoking weakens immunity, reducing the body’s ability to combat HPV infections, which also increases the risk of cervical cancer.

Smoking poses a significant threat to women’s health, being a primary contributor to mortality. It’s crucial to recognise the associated health hazards, which extend beyond increased cancer and heart disease risks to impacting fertility and pregnancy. Fortunately, various tools and support systems exist to aid in quitting smoking. Taking steps to quit smoking promptly can substantially reduce health risks and enhance overall well-being.

Keep reading Herzindagi for more such stories.

Credits: Freepik

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