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Women and Tobacco Use

Smoking and use of tobacco products pose a serious risk of early death and disease for women. Annually, cigarette smoking kills an estimated 202,000 women each year in the U.S.1

In 2016, 13.5 percent of women in the U.S. smoked, compared to 17.5 percent of men.2 Today, with a much smaller gap between men's and women's smoking rates than in the past, women share a much larger burden of smoking-related disease and death.

Key Facts about Smoking among Women

  • The smoking rate for women in some racial/ethnic groups is higher than in others. For example, the 2016 smoking rate for American Indian/Alaska Native women was 34.8 percent while the rate for non-Hispanic white women was 15.5 percent, for Hispanic women just 7.0 percent, and 5.6 percent for Asian American women.2
  • The smoking rate is also much higher for lesbian and bisexual women than for heterosexual women. In 2016, the smoking rate for women who identify as bisexual or lesbian was 17.9 percent compared to 13.5 percent for women who identify as straight.2 This difference is likely the result of multiple factors including ncluding social stigma, sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination targeted marketing.
  • Smoking is directly responsible for 80 percent of lung cancer deaths in women in the U.S. each year.3 In 2014, an estimated 70,700 women died of lung and bronchus cancer.4
  • In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S.4
  • From 1959 to 2010, the risk of developing lung cancer increased tenfold for women.1
  • Female smokers are nearly 22 times more likely to die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, compared to women who never have smoked.1
  • Women who smoke may develop more severe COPD earlier in life.1
  • Women who smoke also have an increased risk for developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx (voice box), esophagus, pancreas, kidney, bladder and uterine cervix. They also double their risk for developing coronary heart disease.5
  • Postmenopausal women who smoke have lower bone density than women who never smoked. Women who smoke have an increased risk for hip fracture compared to never smokers. Cigarette smoking also causes skin wrinkling that could make smokers appear less attractive and prematurely old.5
  • Women have been extensively targeted by tobacco marketing. These ads are dominated by themes associating cigarettes with social desirability, independence, weight control and having fun. Like most other advertisements, they often feature slim, attractive, and athletic models.
  • Some teenage girls start smoking to avoid weight gain and others to identify themselves as independent and glamorous, both themes promoted by the tobacco industry.

Learn about the American Lung Association’s programs to help you or a loved one quit smoking, and join our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Visit or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

  • Sources
    1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014.
    2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey, 2016. Analysis performed by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit using SPSS software.
    3. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2004.
    4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. CDC WONDER On-line Database, compiled from Compressed Mortality File 1999-2014 Series 20 No. 2T , 2016 .
    5. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2001.

    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed February 14, 2019.

    Page Last Updated: November 18, 2019

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