Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the US, yet despite the well-documented negative health consequences, nearly one in five women still smoke. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists encourages women to abstain from smoking during the Great American Smokeout on November 18, 2010, and use that day as a starting point to quit smoking for good.

An estimated 71,000 women will die from lung cancer-the leading cause of cancer death among women-in 2010. Eighty percent of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking. Smoking shaves an average 14.5 years off the lives of female smokers.

Each puff of cigarette smoke exposes users to 2,500 chemicals and cancer-causing agents, including nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide. In addition to a greatly increased risk of lung cancer, women smokers have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, emphysema, bronchitis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, infertility, early menopause, and more than 10 different cancers (including breast and cervical cancers) than non-smokers.

Pregnant women who smoke put their babies at a higher risk for preterm birth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, poor lung function, asthma, and bronchitis. The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are also passed through breast milk to babies.

Fortunately, smokers who quit can stop or reverse the damage caused by cigarettes. In the days and months after a person stops smoking, heart rate and blood pressure drop to healthier levels, and breathing, circulation, and sense of smell and taste may improve. Heart attack risk decreases by 50% after the first year of quitting, and the chances of developing lung cancer, heart disease, and other ailments fall to nearly that of a nonsmoker in the first few years.

It takes most smokers several tries to successfully quit, and going "cold-turkey" can be extremely difficult because of nicotine withdrawal and cravings. There are a number of smoking cessation resources available. Smokers can call 8, a free national smoking cessation hotline, to speak with trained counselors who will help develop individualized quit plans that fit each person's unique smoking pattern. People who use telephone counseling are twice as likely to stop smoking as those who don't get this type of intervention. Help from a counselor can keep quitters from making many common mistakes.

Women should talk to their doctor about methods that may increase the odds of permanently quitting, such as support groups, other local smoking cessation resources, and medical therapies. For nonpregnant women, nicotine replacement products that combat cravings (patches, gums, nasal sprays, etc) or medications (such as bupropion or varenicline), in combination with nicotine replacement, can double the chances of quitting.

For more information on the Great American Smokeout and smoking cessation, go here.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

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