HealthLines: Why do young women take up smoking?

Alva Carpenter

Published — Wednesday 18 September 2013

Last update 2 October 2013 1:31 pm

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Last week while I was in Paris, I was surprised by the number of young women smoking in the outdoor pavement cafes.
Parisian women smoke with glamor, confidence and style, combining smoking with their morning coffee. It seems to me that many French people are at least occasional smokers and maybe it is one of the secrets as to why the French stay so slim.
English girls smoke too, but smoking in England is considered politically incorrect and it is heavily banned in public places: So most smokers are huddled on cold street corners furtively sharing their shameful addiction.
A Frenchman named Nicot (from whose name the word nicotine is derived) introduced tobacco to France from where it later spread to England. But while the French may be stylish smokers, the habit is also one of the worst known to mankind as it can destroy one’s health.
The number of women smokers has risen in the last decade or two. Some anti-smoking groups blame it on the failure to increase tobacco prices. But, low prices alone cannot be the reason for young women taking up smoking.

History of women’s smoking
Many women in the past took to tobacco because they regarded cigarettes as a symbol of freedom. There is an interesting story about how America accepted and promoted women’s smoking. The beginning of the 1900’s saw a movement demanding a woman’s right to vote in America; during this time the American Tobacco company was promoting the cigarette brand ‘Lucky’ and perceived a market in promoting cigarettes to women.
They hired young models who posed as suffragettes to join the Easter Parade in New York while lighting up cigarettes and wearing banners describing their cigarettes as “torches of liberty”. The result was that cigarette sales to women skyrocketed and spread throughout the country. Smoking had become associated with women’s liberation. Film makers often enhanced Audrey Hepburn’s glamor by giving her a cigarette holder which can be seen in films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
In the Gulf many more men than women smoke but the numbers of female smokers is rising. Based on a Dubai survey, 14.4 percent of western expatriate women smoke, compared with just 1.5 percent of Emirati women.
Today, medical studies have proven that smoking tobacco is among the leading causes of lung cancer, heart attacks, COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and gum disease. It can also lead to birth defects. So why do so many young women take up this habit?
According to Health Canada, most women smoke to relax and take a break and for comfort. Some smoke to deal with stress and depression while others are believed to be fighting feelings of helplessness or dealing with anger and frustration through tobacco use.
Thai researchers have found that smoking and tobacco use is related to education and income. The lesser the education and lower the income, the higher the rate of smoking. In India, researchers concluded that the greatest tobacco consumption is observed among illiterate people. They also found that smoking was significantly linked to heart disease and high blood pressure.
The health hazards of smoking have caused countries like Singapore to impose high taxes on tobacco products and anti-smoking campaigns are launched every year in an attempt to curb tobacco smoking. Tobacco companies are also responsible for encouraging girls and women to smoke. According to the WHO, women in China represent the largest potential market for tobacco companies.
Cigarette manufacturers have created “mild” and “low- tar” cigarette brands to appeal to women. Tobacco advertisements have themed their products around women’s independence, stress relief, and even weight loss. The tobacco industry has had a large part to play in encouraging more women to take up smoking by perpetuating the myth that smoking is glamorous, and a form of independence.
There is a constant flow of new brands, specifically targeted at women which are actively promoted in the market.
We need to consider whether smoking is a response to stress in their lives or one of the few “pleasures” that are relatively easy to acquire. I am against smoking because it is so unhealthy. It is difficult to persuade the young that they are not invincible and that what you do today affects your health tomorrow. The best advice of all is never to start as it is addictive and so hard to give up. If you have friends who smoke never allow them to smoke in your home because you care about them. For an advice sheet on helping women to give up smoking e-mail me at [email protected].

Healthy Recipe of the Week

Tasty Grilled Chicken Kebabs
Serves 6

90 ml water
45 ml soy sauce
45 ml lemon juice
1 ½ tbsp honey
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. ground ginger
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves cut into 4 cm pieces
1 ½ green bell peppers, seeded
and cut into 4 cm pieces
1 ½ onions, quartered
12 large mushroom caps

Combine first six ingredients in a glass baking dish. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate at least two hours in refrigerator. Prepare grill. Remove chicken from marinade and boil marinade 10 minutes in a saucepan. Alternate chicken and vegetables on skewers. Grill 15 cm from medium-hot coals 15-20 minutes, or until done, turning and basting often with marinade

Ask Alva: I have finally given up smoking after 20 years. What should I eat to improve my health and to help me avoid getting cancer? — Jane

Firstly, well done! I would advise you to speak to your doctor about taking extra supplements to boost your immune system especially vitamin C and E. As for your diet, increasing your fruit and vegetables intake is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of cancer after smoking. Many people find eating frozen grapes keeps their hands busy and also grapes are highly recommended for smokers and ex-smokers. Make sure you eat five portions of brightly colored fruits and vegetables every day. Tobacco smoke can lead to cancer-causing agents in the body so there is a corresponding need for protective antioxidants that can neutralize them. The main antioxidant vitamins are vitamin C and vitamin E.

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