Women more vulnerable to effects of cigarette smoke than men

November 14, 2000

Cigarette smoking gives more respiratory symptoms among women than among men

Women seem to be more vulnerable to the damaging effects of cigarette smoke than men, shows new research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Over 65,000 people aged 20 and over were surveyed about their respiratory health between 1995 and 1997. The survey was part of a larger health study in the Nord-Trøndelag area of Norway.

Similar proportions of men and women reported episodes of wheezing or breathlessness, but more women than men reported that they had asthma. Just under a third of both men and women were current smokers, but in age group 20-59 years, more women than men were smokers. Men had started smoking at a younger age, had smoked longer and more cigarettes a day.

Smokers were twice as likely to report respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing, breathlessness and coughing, compared to non-smokers and the longer the smoking habit, the more likely were they to have symptoms. But among all smokers with comparable daily cigarette consumption and smoking history, significantly more of the women smokers reported respiratory symptoms. Rates of current asthma in women rose the more cigarettes they smoked: one in 10 women with a 20 or more daily habit said that they were asthmatic. This trend was not seen in male smokers.

The authors conclude that the higher rates of respiratory symptoms and asthma among women smokers show that they are more susceptible to the damaging effects of tobacco smoke. They suggest that women draw no less strongly on their cigarettes, but size for size, their smaller airways might be exposed to relatively higher levels of noxious substances than those of men.

Dr Arnulf Langhammer, National Institute of Public Health, Verdal, Norway
Email: verdalfh@online.no

BMJ Specialty Journals

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