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Smoking: A Women’s Health Issue

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Smoking: A Women’s Health Issue

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Smoking for anyone, at any age, is dangerous and can lead to preventable disease, and even death. But, for women, smoking carries certain additional risks. While many Americans may know that smoking can cause cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, like lung cancer, they may not be aware that smoking can also negatively impact a woman’s reproductive health, as well as lead to cervical cancer.1

How Smoking Affects Reproductive Health

A woman kissing another woman's stomach

Because cigarette smoke is comprised of a mix of over 7,000 chemicals, breathing these chemicals in can damage nearly any part of the body.  For women, smoking cigarettes can lead to reproductive damage, reduced fertility, and difficulty conceiving.  Research shows smoking may affect hormone production, making it difficult to become pregnant.2 Further, certain chemicals found in cigarettes, like 1,3-Butadiene and benzene, have been shown to harm the reproductive system and may reduce fertility.3

If a woman is able to conceive, but smokes during pregnancy, she may experience complications—such as ectopic pregnancy—as a result of the chemicals in cigarette smoke. Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg fails to reach the womb, but instead begins to grow outside of the womb.  This serious condition almost always results in death of the fetus, and in some cases, maternal death as well. Additionally, there is some evidence that smoking during pregnancy may result in miscarriage of the fetus.2

Smoking and Pregnancy

Smoking during pregnancy can also result in negative outcomes for a woman’s unborn baby. Approximately 400,000 U.S. infants per year are exposed to cigarette smoke and its chemicals in the womb.2 These babies are at risk of a number of complications including:

  • Low birth weight;
  • Lungs that fail to develop properly;
  • Birth defects such as cleft lip and/or cleft palate;
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).4

While cigarettes are the tobacco product most harmful to public health, no tobacco product is safe for pregnant women to use. That’s because nearly all tobacco products—including most e-cigarettes—contain nicotine, which can cross the placenta and interfere with fetal and postnatal development.5


Smoking and Cancer in Women

Smoking cigarettes can cause cervical cancer, a cancer that only affects women. And nearly all lung cancers, the number one killer of both men and women, is caused by cigarette smoking.1

Quitting: The Healthiest Option for All Women

The best way for a woman to safeguard her health is to never start smoking. But for women who smoke, quitting is the best option, and it is never too late to do so. Within just a few years of quitting, a woman’s cervical cancer risk is reduced, and lung cancer risk can drop by as much as half within 10 years after quitting.6 

Pregnant women who are looking to quit smoking should consult with a doctor about how to do so with the most success for themselves and their babies. Smokefree.gov also offers resources for quitting while pregnant, including a texting program to offer support for pregnant women trying to quit.

Because nicotine in any form may be unsafe for expectant mothers, medical guidance is necessary. Women who are not pregnant may find that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help with quitting. NRT is designed to help addicted smokers through the hardest parts of quitting. FDA-approved NRTs help addicted smokers withdraw from smoking by delivering measured amounts of nicotine without the toxic chemicals from cigarette smoke. When used properly, NRTs are safe and effective cessation methods and can double a smoker’s chances of quitting cigarettes successfully.7

How FDA Plans to Further Reduce Smoking

In an effort to prevent a new generation of smokers and to help addicted smokers quit cigarettes, in  July 2017, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., announced the agency’s intention to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes to minimally addictive or non-addictive levels. While this proposed action would not remove cigarettes from the market, it would reduce the addiction potential of cigarettes, offering addicted adult smokers the chance to attempt to quit with the help of NRTs, or to switch to other potentially less harmful tobacco products. Through this action, FDA hopes to protect the health of not just women and their children, but of all Americans.

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