Every time a smoker inhales, she sends an army of chemicals into her lungs, dispatching toxins throughout her body. In fact, there's barely a body part or organ that doesn't suffer the effects of cigarette smoke," says Dr Vivek Gupta, Senior Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Apollo hospital.
"Lets start with the smoking effects already studied to death. Smoking threatens the heart by increasing your blood pressure while decreasing your tolerance for exercise. It increases the tendency of your blood to clot, which can lead to a heart attack. Smokers also have higher LDL (bad) and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. You nearly double your risk of stroke, cancer concern skyrockets and lungs are badly affected," he explains.
There are some ill-effects of smoking, though, that are 'women only' and new research suggests that these are graver than previously thought.
According to the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women who smoke experience more severe premenstrual symptoms and have a 50 per cent increase in cramps lasting two or more days. Cervical cancer is also much more common in women who smoke.
Besides this, women who smoke often have trouble with everything from conceiving to giving birth. "Smokers experience higher incidences of miscarriage, ectopic (out of the uterus) pregnancy, placental problems and low birth-weight babies. In fact, smoking affects practically every phase of conception," according to Dr Mridula Chichra, Consultant Gynecologist at Jeevan Hospital. Besides, when you smoke during pregnancy, you poison the fetus. Carbon monoxide has a greater affinity for fetal tissue than for adult tissue, and when nicotine crosses the placenta, it speeds up the baby's heart rate.
According to the ACOG, smoking increases a pregnant woman's risk of miscarrying by 39 per cent and heightens the chances of other serious complications, including placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall), placenta previa (when the placenta covers the opening of the uterus) and stillbirth.
According to a January 2006 study, smoking during pregnancy may increase a woman's chances of having a baby with abnormal fingers and toes (problems like webbed feet, extra toes or fingers, and missing toes or fingers). This study, which appeared in the 'Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery' (vol. 117: pp. 301-308), focused on 5,171 babies born with abnormal hands or feet and without any other birth defects and noted how much, if at all, the mothers had smoked. They reported that, compared with non-smokers, this risk went up 27 per cent for women who smoked up to 10 daily cigarettes, 38 per cent for women who smoked 11-20 cigarettes daily, and 57 per cent for those who smoked more than 21 cigarettes daily.
Another study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology 2006, found that children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy may be at risk of becoming overweight by the age of eight. The study was based on data from nearly 35,000 children who were born between 1959 and 1965 and followed through the age of eight. According to lead study author Dr Aimin Chen, a researcher at the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, this is the largest such study to date.
Chen explained that the risk of being overweight climbed by about 17 per cent for every 10 cigarettes a mother smoked per day while pregnant. The reason may be that prenatal smoking often leads to low birth weight. "Infants born at a low weight tend to go through a rapid period of 'catch-up' growth, and this accelerated growth may make them more vulnerable to excess weight gain later in life," he reasoned. It is also possible, Chen and his colleagues wrote, that infants of smokers go through a form of nicotine withdrawal after birth, and similar to smokers trying to kick the habit, they too develop problems with appetite control.
Whatever the reason, this study surely gives women 'one more reason' to avoid smoking.
Until now, there was no strong correlation between breast cancer and smoking - but that too has changed, thanks to a study in the January 2004 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Peggy Reynolds, Chief of the environmental epidemiology section, California Department of Health Services, and her colleagues examined breast cancer risk among 116,544 women who had reported their smoking status. Between 1996 and 2000, 2,005 of the women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. The incidence of breast cancer among current smokers was found to be approximately 30 per cent greater than that among women who had never smoked.
Another study also showed that women who smoke cigarettes or have smoked for long periods of time might be up to 40 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who never smoked. For this study, published in the Cancer Causes and Control, October 2005 (vol. 16, pp. 975-985) researchers of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre examined 2,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 65 and 79 and reported that breast cancer may be yet another health risk associated with cigarette smoking.
A Cambridge University team looked at the impact of smoking on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the British Journal of Ophthalmology 2006 reported
The British Journal of Ophthalmology 2006 also reported that a Cambridge University team looked at the impact of smoking on age-related macular degeneration. The scientists believe that chemicals in cigarette smoke could react negatively with molecules in the retina, leading to macular degeneration - the leading (and untreatable) cause of blindness.
Cigarettes can also lead to early osteoporosis; many studies have shown that smoking significantly reduces bone mineral density. "When a woman walks into my office, I can tell at first glance whether or not she smokes. Smokers' skin has a dull, sallow look," says Dr Shehla Agarwal, Consultant Dermatologist at Apollo Clinic. "The healthy glow is absent and there is usually wrinkling," she adds.
Also, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in 2000, the family of chronic illnesses linked to smoking has gained another member - rheumatoid arthritis. Women who currently smoke are nearly twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis later in life as those who have never smoked, says the study.
More reasons this year for women smokers to kick the habit