World Tobacco Day: Does smoking affect women differently than men?

Tobacco affects every human organ and tobacco users are at a higher risk of multiple types of cancer. In fact about 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer and head-and-neck cancer are caused by tobacco in India. You may ask, we all know smoking is dangerous, then what does gender have to do with it? Well, there was a time when women were seen as occasional smokers but today there is a stark increase in daily smokers who are women. The worrying trend of increased tobacco usage by urban female population is a major concern. It is going to be a public health crisis over the coming two decades in India, as these patients develop all the health risks associated with tobacco usage.

Dr. Biswajyoti Hazarika, Chief – Head and Neck Surgery, Surgical Oncology, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram, said, “Till now, female tobacco related cancer was mostly seen in the rural population due to usage of Indian forms of tobacco like the hookah or beedi, but in recent times it has been observed that cigarette smoking is on rise among the urban females. At present we do not see many cases of lung cancer or head-and-neck cancers in females due to tobacco use, but this is set to change in the coming few years.”

Highlighting the concern, Dr. Lancelot Pinto, Consultant Pulmonologist and Epidemiologist, PD Hinduja Hospital & MRC shared, “An estimated 70 million women above the age of 15 years consume tobacco in India, most of this being smokeless/chewing tobacco (SLT). This is worrisome because women who consume tobacco are 8 times more likely to develop oral cancers than their male counterparts, 2-4 times more likely to develop heart disease and have a higher risk of death.”

According to a recent research published in the European Society of Cardiology, women find it harder to quit smoking than men. As per psychologists there are several reasons why quitting smoking is tougher for a woman. “Smoking makes her feel liberated, it becomes like a coping mechanism to deal with her daily pressures and some women also tend to believe that it helps her to keep the weight off. But these are all dangerous reasons that make them pay heavily.”

Another study observed that men and women both perceived smoking differently. Men smoked for the stronger effects of nicotine, while women smoked to regulate their mood or fit in a social setting. It was also shown that more women craved cigarette smoking while experiencing stressful episodes.

Adding to it, Dr. Vineet Govinda Gupta, Sr Consultant, Medical Oncology, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram, said, “There is a lag period of 10 to 20 years for the ill effects of smoking to present its symptoms in the tobacco-consuming population like smokers and paan-masala chewers. Tobacco-related diseases, such as lung and head-and-neck cancer, have been almost the exclusive perseverance of the males till now. Today, a large number of urban females in their 20s and residing in the metros and Tier 1 cities have taken to smoking cigarettes. In these females, the effect of smoking will manifest in their late 40s and 50s.”

Some of the most recommended ways advised to people to quit smoking are – to find ways to stay occupied, try chewing gums, consume lots of water, exercise regularly, avoid triggers that make you want to smoke and acknowledge even small milestones.

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