Lung cancer and emphysema were my main fears as a smoker of...oh...16 years. But even after all those years of smoking a pack a day my lungs felt pretty good (of course I'm sure they didn't look so hot) but my heart did not. I didn't have a heart attack, or serious palpitations. What I did have was chest pain, even when I ran to catch a taxi or took a few flights of stairs in a hurry.
So there I was, 31 years old, with chest pain because I was so addicted to cigarettes. A chain-smoking vegetarian. A little paradoxical. I started early, like 90% of smokers. Not because it was cool, but because I actually liked it. And once I was addicted, it didn't matter why I smoked, I just did. I had to. The cravings were terrible even 5 hours after my last cigarette. I also believed I'd gain a ton of weight if I quit.
Of course the reality is that heart disease kills more women than anything else, and smoking causes 20% of these deaths. Women smoke as much as men, and find it harder to quit, although experts don't know why.
Although men suffer the same addiction to nicotine as women, the marketing towards both sexes is entirely different. Granted, the smoking men in ads are still ruggedly handsome or smoothly debonair, but it's the mass marketing to women that is most interesting. The target is weight - the immortal enemy of women. RJ Reynolds started their Camel No. 9 in 2007, with the slogan "light and luscious". Seriously. The "No 9" is written almost identically to a famous, expensive perfume that also has a number in it name. The word 'light' is also used to remind women of their weight, as well as to reassure them that the nicotine levels are lower. Virginia Slims just plain old wants you to think 'slim'.
Not only that but contrary to the tobacco companies claims to only target women, their ads appear in publications with huge teen audiences and rarely does a tobacco model appear to be over 25.
Don't forget about cigars. A study done by the Surgeon General’s office found that "the use of cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco among women is generally low, but recent data suggest that cigar smoking among women and girls is increasing."
Cigar bars and clubs are springing up, where men and women can taste different tobaccos like they were at a wine tasting party. They sniff and compare and contrast and are affectionately known as "cigar aficionados". Shhhh! That's code for 'classy tobacco addict'.
Two days ago I had my 7th anniversary of being smoke free. My chest pain is long gone. It left within a couple of months of quitting.
Quitting is hard. Enormously. I could use big, descriptive words but quitting just sucks. But the 7 years have flown by. I had 3 beautiful healthy children whom I never would have had because pregnancy and smoking wasn't an option, not even for a determined little chain- smoker like me.
The best thing I ever did for my health was quit. It doesn't matter how long you have smoked or your fears about weight gain. I did gain a few pounds (only a few, I promise) and they dropped off once my body settled into it's new, healthy regime. I have saved approximately $14,000 (not that I actually have it, sadly) and my skin is back to where it should be. My fears of having a face like a leather baseball mitt have evaporated. Oh and I smell good too.
I know - I truly know - that I was on my way to heart disease through smoking. I was going to be one of the women who make up that 20% of heart failure patients. Why not? Why would I escape damaging my heart when most female smokers do not?
According to the National Research for Women and Families -
Women who smoke are more than twice as likely as other women to have a heart attack. Your risk of having a heart attack increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke, so stopping today makes a difference.
Your spouse and your children will be less likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease. If you think you’re the only one who benefits from your quitting, think again. Environmental tobacco smoke kills spouses and children by increasing their risk of lung cancer and heart disease even if they never smoked. Your quitting can save their lives.
The National Center for Policy Research (CPR) for Women & Families is working diligently to change the attitudes of young women and girls who think about smoking.
The National Women’s Law Center has conducted research that found that neither state nor federal policies have been successful in discouraging tobacco use amongst women and advocates change in laws and increased awareness and education.
The Girls Scouts - Their project In the Zone: Living Drug Free, encourages girls to stay away from all drugs, including nicotine.
So if you smoke - think about quitting. Think seriously about quitting - for real this time. There is help out there. Start with www.cancer.org. Talk to your doctor. You have no idea how your heart will thank you. And remember that a solitary smoke is just an expression. No-one smokes alone. Your family's hearts will thank you too!
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