Smoking cigarettes affects men and women somewhat differently. The biggest difference stems from issues relating to pregnancy and childbearing and health problems affecting the organs necessary for impregnation and childbirth. But men and women also smoke for different reasons, and different demographic groups of men and women are more likely to smoke. In fact, gender differences touch almost every aspect of smoking, except for the most important one; smoking kills and quitting is the only way to reliably reduce the health risks of smoking or having smoked.
Studies in the 1980s and 1990s found that women and men smoke for different reasons and respond to different types of strategies for quitting. Although seemingly sexist, the clearest conclusions of these studies were that women smoke for social reasons like taking a break with coworkers while men tend to smoke alone, and that women respond to group-support oriented methods of quitting better than men.
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Smoking in the United States and Canada has fallen more precipitously among men than women since the 1950s, but more men smoked 50 years ago. The result has been a narrowing in the smoking gap, with somewhere around 25% of men currently smoking compared to less than 20% of women. While fewer women than men smoke, single mothers are more likely to smoke than most other male and female demographics. However, men tend to smoke much more intensely, so the negative effects they experience are also more extreme.
Although interesting, societal and social differences between male and female smoking aren't as important as the health differences. Men and women can both suffer infertility. For men, this tends to include erectile dysfunction and decreased potency. Women suffer from damage to the uterus as well as problems that can impact the woman and the fetus. On top of common health problems like heart disease, women also have an increased risk of osteoporosis, early menopause, and harmful interactions with oral contraceptives.
Although obvious, one of the biggest differences is that women who choose to give birth experience nine months – or more than a year if they breast feed – during which it is impossible for them to smoke without the chemicals in cigarettes directly harming the fetus or newborn child. In many parts of the world where traditional gender roles remain more strongly-defined, this connection between female smoking and children's health extends for the entirety of the child's life because full-time mothers are rarely far from their children.
One of the reasons it's important to understand the gender differences of how cigarettes affect men and women is that quitting smoking is a very individual choice and experience. People tend to be more successful when they have more information about smoking, its health risks, and quitting, so specialized information about common gender differences can make it that much easier to beat smoking and get on with life.