Women are closing one gender gap, but it's a dubious achievement: They are rapidly catching up to men in suffering from smoking-related diseases.
Since 1950, the number of women who die each year from lung cancer in the US - one of smoking's worst tolls - has risen 600 percent. And since 1980, when the last Surgeon General's report on women's smoking was released, some three million American women have died prematurely from lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions linked to tobacco, the report says.
"In the early decades smoking prevalence was more prominent among men, and it took nearly 25 years before the gap narrowed and smoking became commonplace among women," Surgeon General Dr David Satcher said in a statement. "Women not only share the same health risk as men, but are also faced with health consequences that are unique to women, including pregnancy complications, problems with menstrual function, and cervical cancer."
Women who take birth control pills and smoke raise their risk of dangerous blood clots. Smoking is also known to cause osteoporosis, which women get four times more commonly than men.
Lung cancer kills more than breast cancer
Roughly one in five American women smoked in 1998, the report says, about the same number as did in the beginning of the decade. Women with less than a high school education are three times more likely to smoke than are those who've finished college.
Lung cancer will kill an estimated 68 000 American women in 2001, compared with the 41 000 who will die from breast cancer. But only one in five women knows that lung cancer is the leading tumour killer for women, says Dr Lyndon Haviland, executive vice president of the American Legacy Foundation, which funds antismoking research and initiatives.
Dr Barbara Phillips, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association, says the risk of cancer declines when a person stops smoking, and returns to that of a nonsmoker in about 10 years. "This may seem like a discouragingly long time," Phillips says. "However, the risk of heart attacks, bronchitis and emphysema begins to fall dramatically within weeks of quitting smoking."