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Risk of Heart Disease Higher For Women Smokers

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Every day 15 billion cigarettes are sold around the world. (Photo: Z. Kilian )
Every day 15 billion cigarettes are sold around the world. (Photo: Z. Kilian )


  • Study shows smoking increases heart disease risk 25% for women
  • Reasons unknown but could be biological differences or variations in smoking between genders
  • Female perspective in tobacco-control policies is fundamental, researchers say

Women have a 25% increased risk of smoking-related heart disease over men, even though they generally smoke fewer cigarettes than men, a new study from leading medical journal The Lancet  shows.  

Based on data conducted over a 30 year period on more than  2.4 million participants, the research also revealed the longer a woman smoked, the greater her risk of heart disease was, compared with that of a man, who had smoked for the same length of time. For every additional year that a woman smoked, her risk increased by 2%.

Overall, smoking was determined to double the risk of heart attack for both women and men. Study author Dr. Rachel Huxley from the University of Minnesota reported that risks adjusted for sex were not available, but she roughly estimated them to be around a 2.3 fold increase if women start smoking, and around a 1.8 fold increase for men.

Unknown Reason

Researchers say that the reasons for the increased risk in women over men are unclear, but that there are likely two explanations: Women could be more prone to coronary heart disease due to biological differences between the genders, or there could be variations in the way women smoke.

Study authors Dr. Rachel Huxley and Dr. Mark Woodward, from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, wrote: “Women might extract a greater quantity of carcinogens and other toxic agents from the same number of cigarettes than men. This could explain why women who smoke have double the risk of lung cancer compared with their male counterparts.”

British Heart Foundation senior cardiac nurse Ellen Mason told BBC News: “It’s alarming to see such a large study confirm that women are so much more at risk of heart disease from smoking than men.”  Researchers behind the study, suggest that the inclusion of a female perspective in tobacco-control policies is fundamental.

According to research, smoking is not only dangerous in women, it is also the main reason why on average men die sooner than women across Europe.  The World Health Organization lists heart disease as the world’s biggest killer, affecting more than 7 million people each year.

Key Statistics – Global Tobacco Market (source: WHO)

  • Every minute, 10 million cigarettes are sold around the world.
  • Every day, 15 billion cigarettes are sold around the world.
  • One third of the world’s male population smokes tobacco.
  • Of the world’s population, about 20% smoke.
  • The Western Pacific region consumes 33% of the world’s cigarettes.
  • 5 trillion cigarettes are sold annually.

By Stephanie Lagopoulos for
Based in Toronto, Stephanie Lagopoulos is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, travel and technology. She also works in the advertising industry.

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