Women who smoke lose a decade of life. Or more.

A study on the effect of smoking on longevity in women was just published in The Lancet of October 27, 2012. As would be expected, the impact is significant. What might be surprising is just how significant.

The authors surveyed over one million women in the United Kingdom beginning in 1996, and continuing periodically through 2011. The surveys were conducted by mail. Bottom line, smoking caused women to lose 11 years of life.

Some of the key points from the study:

  • Two-thirds of all deaths in smoking women between the ages of 50 and 80 were directly from smoking.
  • Women who stopped smoking by age 40 only suffered a 10% excess mortality rate from smoking as they grew older.  Women who stopped by age 30 suffered only a 3% excess mortality.
  • Women who smoked only a half pack a day experienced excess mortality which was twice that of women who did not smoke at all.

Encouraging our women patients to stop smoking can be a tough sell, just as is true for men. Patients respond to different influences, though if a patient’s personal clinician periodically talks about the importance of stopping smoking, it can be motivating. (Patients probably just get tired of being nagged so much.) Presenting some alarming facts, like contained in this study, may help motivate some women to stop. Coupling this bad news with information on stop-smoking programs at the same time may help. A July 24 post in this blog has information on how Medi-Cal patients can get $20 for trying to stop smoking.  Click this link to see the article: http://phcprimarycare.org/?p=177.

While the effort to get our patients, men and women, to lay down their smokes may seem Sisyphean, we need to keep pushing. We are having an impact. In 2010, 11.9% of California adults smoked, compared to 19.3 % for the U.S. as a whole.

Richard Fleming, MD

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