Healthy Options for Women who Smoke

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What are some of the reasons women smoke?

Women smoke for many different reasons in addition to being physically addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes. When you are thinking about how smoking affects your health, it can help to know why you smoke.

The following are some of the reasons that women smoke:

  • to cope with stress or anger;
  • to avoid eating or to control weight;
  • to cope with poverty or unemployment;
  • smoking can seem like an old friend;
  • smoking can be a reward after completing a task;
  • to take a break from caring for others, such as children or elderly parents;
  • to take a break from work responsibilities;
  • to cope with relationship problems;
  • to cope with feelings of powerlessness;
  • to cope with the loneliness or boredom of social isolation;
  • to maintain social connections;
  • to create distance to cope with uncomfortable or dangerous social situations, addiction to other substances such as alcohol; or
  • to give themselves a sense of control.

When you figure out some of the reasons that you smoke, you may be able to replace some cigarettes with different ways of coping. For example, with a short walk on your lunch hour, instead of a cigarette, you can take a break from the responsibilities of work, clear your head and get some exercise.

How does smoking affect my health?

Here are some ways that smoking might affect your health:

  • You may have more frequent coughs, colds and minor illnesses than if you did not smoke.
  • Smoking decreases your chances of getting pregnant.
  • Smoking and using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) greatly increases your risk of strokes, heart attacks and vascular complications.
  • Smoking while pregnant increases your chances of having a miscarriage, premature labour or a low birth-weight baby.
  • Smoking while you are pregnant or a new mother increases the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Smoking decreases bone density and increases your chances of breaking a bone.
  • You may reach menopause earlier than you would have if you did not smoke.
  • You are more likely to suffer from strokes and heart attacks.
  • You are more likely to have lung cancer and a variety other cancers than if you did not smoke. Smoking causes at least 85% of lung cancers. Smoking is also strongly linked to cervical cancer and breast cancer. In addition, it is linked to cancer of the bladder, kidney, pancreas, mouth, esophagus, larynx and colon.

How can I get healthier if I'm not ready to quit smoking?

Even if you are not ready to quit smoking, you can take some steps to improve you health.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods every day. Include high fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water daily. Water helps to flush toxins out of your body and to keep your organs and skin hydrated. This may help with some of the dehydrating effects of cigarettes.
  • Limit your use of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Schedule regular visits with your health care providers and have an annual Pap test.
  • Learn about how to care for your breasts throughout your lifetime.
  • If you are over 35, learn what you can do to ease perimenopausal and menopausal discomforts.
  • Practice relaxation exercises - deep breathing, yoga, and meditation are some of the ways that women find to slow down, take a break and relieve stress.
  • Begin to exercise regularly. See your doctor for an overall health assessment prior to starting a new exercise program. Be aware that smoking does decrease the functioning of your lungs so you will need to start slowly.
  • Increase your intake of Vitamin C as smoking depletes your body of this important vitamin.
  • Reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke.


Reviewed June 2006