“I have tried everything to quit smoking” cries Jennifer (not her real name) from a wheelchair after complaining of severe pain in the left foot. “I have tried pills, patches, acupuncture and hypnotherapy, you name it. I have tried them all; many times over. Nothing has worked.”
She continues, “I don’t want to be in so much pain all the time. I don’t want be cut on so many time and in so many places over and over.”
Jennifer, who must use oxygen all the time now because of emphysema caused by years of smoking, has suffered any number of health problems caused by her addiction to smoking. Even she has lost count of how many surgeries and other procedures she has undergone. She has had heart surgery twice along with multiple vascular procedures to open blocked arteries in just about every part of her body. Typical of women smokers, the benefit of surgery does not last very long. Because she has continue to smoke, the same arteries keep getting blocked again and the disease spreads to even more arteries.
The last surgery on her right leg did not succeed in reestablishing blood flow to the right foot. The pain from a foot that is not getting enough blood is unbearable. That is how she lost her right leg. She is now facing the prospect of losing her left leg.
Jennifer is well aware of the connection of smoking and her health challenges. After each surgery she tries very hard to quit smoking. Despite her intensely motivated desire, she fails every time.
Unfortunately Jennifer’s story is not uncommon among women smokers who are trying to quit. Well-documented studies have shown that compared to men, women smokers are not as successful in quitting. The following reasons are most commonly cited.
- Women trying to quit smoking typically gain at least 10 pounds or more which is not socially acceptable compared to men gaining weight.
- A woman's menstrual cycle symptoms conflict with the tobacco withdrawal symptoms making it much harder to quit smoking.
- Women don’t respond as well to anti-smoking drugs.
- Pregnant women are not allowed use the anti-smoking drugs.
- Women smokers trying to quit get less support from their spouses.
- Many women may enjoy the feeling of control, independence and accomplishment associated with smoking.
- Women are more susceptible to the peer pressures that lead to smoking.
Every cardiovascular surgeon has a few “Jennifers” in his/her practice. Indeed, everybody in healthcare has seen these types of patients due to the huge toll that smoking takes on women’s health. The following table reveals the impact:
“Lung cancer now kills more women than breast cancer. And more women die of cardiovascular disease than cancers,” laments one of my colleagues watching a football game in which all the players and sponsors are wearing something pink to raise breast cancer awareness. “So why doesn’t the corporate world pay as much attention.”
Corporate America, however, has not taken up that mantle. On the contrary, what I saw in a in-flight magazine during a recent trip really shocked me. The fold-out advertisement that nobody who opens the magazine will miss shows the picture of a woman celebrating a successful business negotiation with a cigar.
The image of Jennifer was fresh in my mind because I had just seen her previous day. I remembered her in the wheelchair crying, “I wish I had never smoked the very first time. Look what it has done me.”
Instead of seeing the consequences of smoking, millions of travelers will see this image of a successful woman smoking a cigar. How irresponsible! This ad feeds the association of smoking with control, independence and accomplishment, all of which makes it harder for women to quit. In short, this ad strongly undermines the efforts of so many organizations worldwide that are trying so hard to educate people about dangers of smoking.
Smoking and adding salt to our diet are the two biggest causes of death and disability worldwide. You can see the long list of cancers and other devastating health problems caused by smoking in the accompanying pictorial from the Center for Disease Control, a branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH).
All the problems in the above pictorial would be bad enough. But women, it turns out, fare worse than men once they’ve contracted smoking-related diseases. For example, women who smoke, like Jennifer, are more likely than male smokers to succumb to cardiovascular disease.
In addition to facing even more aggravated health risks than men, women smokers also have to deal with cancers and diseases of the reproductive system. To make matters even more concerning, smoking aggravates pregnancy-related risks for women.
None of the above information is new or controversial. We know that women are more likely to succumb to peer pressure and start smoking. We know that they pay a much higher price in health problems than men. And we know it’s more difficult for them to quit smoking.
I would expect that a corporation like Karrass would be cognizant of how ads like the one of the woman celebrating with a cigar contribute to this problem. I would expect that the airline industry would do its part when it comes to screening what is printed in its magazines. Instead, both Karrass and the airline industry have endorsed an ad that, to put it mildly, is highly irresponsible.
Don’t let commercial interests dictate your actions. Refuse to pick up that first smoke, so that you don’t end up like Jennifer.
Don’t let commercial interests impact the health of women (and men) worldwide. Please do all you can to get the attention of irresponsible companies who promote disability and disease with their tobacco ads. By making your voice heard, you can help them find their corporate consciences.