Smoking is so yesterday

| October 16, 2019

There are umpteen newspaper articles and Internet blogs that explain the dangerous effects of smoking on people’s health but very few properly address the detrimental effects that cigarettes have on women.

High taxes, graphic warnings and social pressure have driven down Australia’s smoking rate to just 12.8%, a fall of almost 50% since 1995, but 8.9%. of 17 year old girls are already regular smokers.  From extra lines and wrinkles to serious medical complications like ectopic pregnancy and premature menopause, these women face a range of risks if they choose to smoke through later life. 

Irregular Periods

Research evidence proves that smoking affects the levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in women of child bearing age and this imbalance of hormones can hamper their menstrual cycle.  Furthermore, smokers in one Australian research study were more likely to suffer severe menstrual pain, with reported pain increasing in proportion to the number of cigarettes smoked. 


As well as the well-known risks to the fetus from smoking while pregnant, smoking can affect female fertility and make conception more difficult.  While any number of cigarettes is detrimental, 10 or more cigarettes per day will significantly harm a woman’s ability to conceive.  However a recent survey of female hospital employees found that less than a quarter knew that smoking could reduce their fertility and increase their risk of miscarriage.  

Pregnancy and babyhood

Every time a pregnant woman smokes, her baby effectively smokes too, as the fetus is exposed to the nicotine, carbon monoxide and other chemicals passed on through her placenta.  Even the blood supply is reduced to the baby, given smoking’s harmful effects on the cardio-vascular system.  Such babies are at higher risk of premature birth, have lower birth rates and are more likely to be born with damaged lungs.

Smoking around a baby, whether by the mother or other family members, is also highly irresponsible.  Not only is nicotine passed on to the baby through breast milk, but babies in families with smokers are three times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome, as well as more prone to asthma, allergies, middle ear disease and even childhood cancers.


Several studies have revealed that women who smoke face a higher risk of several types of cancer, including rectal and cervical cancer. While the HPV vaccine has proved highly effective in protecting women against the two most common cervical cancer-causing types of HPV, it doesn’t protect against the cell damage caused by tobacco byproducts which can also cause malignancies.

Heart disease

Not only does smoking increase a person’s risk of stroke or heart attack by 2 to 4 times, but women who smoke are 25% more likely to suffer heart problems than male smokers.   Smoking damages delicate blood vessels, increases the risk of blood clots and, for women taking oral contraceptives, increases blood pressure to boost the risk of stroke and heart attack.


Smoking, like unprotected exposure to the sun, damages the skin and increases the number of wrinkles.  More seriously, smoking is also associated with early menopause in women. An meta-analysis of several studies conducted in 2012 found that women who smoke regularly tend to start menopause one or two years earlier than non-smokers. 

Quitting Cigarettes

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, but the benefits of pushing through the withdrawals and quitting smoking for good begin immediately – not least through saving money.  Blood pressure and heart rate begin to fall within 6 hours of the last cigarette and nicotine disappears from the blood within 24 hours.  Carbon monoxide also drops, allowing more oxygen to reach the heart and brain and warming the fingers and toes.  

The senses of taste and smell dulled by smoking improve within a week, as do levels of vitamin C, while the lungs begin recovering within three months, clearing themselves of the mucus, tar and dust left by smoking.  The body’s immune system also begins to recover, leaving non-smokers less prone to colds and other infections.

Over the next few years without smoking, the blood thins down to normal levels, and heart and lung function recovers, reducing the higher risk of stroke and heart attack.  After five years without smoking, a woman’s risk of cervical cancer falls to that of a life-long non-smoker.  The risk of lung disease also falls, and after 15 years, the risk of heart attack and stroke are little higher than a person who has never smoked at all.

While the precise rate of recovery will depend on the number of cigarettes smoked every day, and the number of years spent smoking, DNA damage stops with the last cigarette and the sooner someone quits the habit, the sooner their body can start to repair itself.

How to Stop Smoking?

Many people try to stop smoking several times before they finally succeed, with studies suggesting that around a dozen failures can pave the wave to success.  Some look for aids, such as meditation or support groups, while others place their faith in nicotine replacement therapy. This approach delivers an ever smaller dose of nicotine – the addictive chemical in cigarettes – to the body through skin patches without the additional risks of smoking, allowing people to wean themselves free gradually.  Short-acting nicotine replacements like lozenges, nasal sprays or inhalers can also help beat intense cravings in the short term.

Avoid the Triggers

Smoking becomes an unconscious habit and so becoming mindful of the situations which triggered lighting up can help people stay nicotine free.  Tackling the root causes of stress, taking work breaks with non-smokers or having a biscuit with a cup of coffee instead of a cigarette can all be effective if they become new habits themselves. 

People often smoke after a meal, for example, or while driving, and so developing new habits such as brushing one’s teeth or chewing gum can help fill the void and beat the cravings.


Vaping has become popular in recent years, with people using “e-cigarettes” to consume nicotine in clouds of flavoured water vapour.  Vaping has been associated with a growing range of possible health problems itself, and the additives used in vaping products are often untested and of dubious origin.  Despite these caveats, a number of studies conclude that vaping as a safer bet than smoking, although it should be used as a step towards stopping nicotine consumption altogether, rather than a permanent alternative. 

A smoke-free life is a better life

Smoking isn’t cool, edgy or sexy.  It’s an expensive way to slowly kill yourself while making yourself unattractive to others.  Quitting smoking is not only the most effective way to improve your health but it will save thousands of dollars to be spent on more productive things.  Women sometimes smoke as a way to manage stress or maintain their weight, but there are always better alternatives to be found.