For a study published online last Thursday in The Lancet, researchers looked at data on smoking and health from 86 previous studies published between 1966 and 2011. In addition to showing that female smokers’ heart disease risk is 25 percent higher, the pooled data showed that a woman’s extra risk increases 2 percent for each additional year she smokes.
What explains women’s greater risk? One possibility is gender-based biological differences. Another is that women smoke a bit differently than men do.
“Women might extract a greater quantity of carcinogens and other toxic agents from the same number of cigarettes than men, study authors Dr. Rachel Huxley of the University of Minnesota and Dr. Mark Woodward of Johns Hopkins University, concluded, according to the Guardian. “This occurrence could explain why women who smoke have double the risk of lung cancer compared with their male counterparts.
In addition to heart disease and lung cancer, smoking is known to raise the risk for emphysema, stroke, infertility, sudden infant death syndrome, reduced bone density, and various other forms of cancer, including malignancies of the bladder, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterus.
In the U.S., tobacco use is responsible for about one in five deaths, or about 443,000 deaths a year. On average, smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers. Twenty-one percent of American adults smoke.