What Smoking Does To Women...If You Still Don't Know
By Rosliwaty Ramli
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 (Bernama) -- The fine print on a cigarette pack warns: "Dangerous to your health." But is there any mention of its ill effects on unborn babies or the look as well as health of smoking women?
Yes, it fails to mention the babies who could be born with cancer, the wrinkles on the faces of women who smoke, said Public Health specialist and Epidemiologist of the Health Department, Dr Sallehudin Abu Bakar.
Among the most insidious hazards posed by cigarettes are those women who puff when pregnant said Dr Sallehudin, pointing to the numerous findings by researchers -- that active smoking by mothers results in a variety of adverse health effects in children.
The adverse effects stem predominantly from transplacental exposure of the fetus to tobacco smoke components.
On prenatal health effects, he said this includes reduced fetal growth, growth retardation and congenital abnormalities while infants of mothers who smoke during pregnancy have birth weights approximately 200-250 gram lower, on average, than infants born to non-smoking women.
He also noted that passive smoke exposure due to maternal or paternal smoking may lead to postnatal health effects which includes increased risk for SIDS (or sudden death syndrome), reduced physical development, decrements in cognition and behaviour and increased risk of childhood cancers.
Dr Sallehudin said investigations conducted throughout the world have demonstrated an increased risk of lower respiratory tract illness in infants with parents who smoked.
"These studies indicate a significantly increased frequency of bronchitis and pneumonia during the first year of life of children with parents who smoked," he added.
Data from numerous surveys also demonstrated a greater frequency of the most common respiratory symptoms such as cough, phlegm and wheeze in the children of smokers, he said.
"Maternal smoking during pregnancy has been shown to reduce ventilatory function of baby, measured shortly after birth. This observation suggests that in utero exposures from maternal smoking may affect lung development and may increase risk of asthma," Dr Sallehudin said.
SMOKING AND INFERTILITY
He emphasized that compared with non-smoking women, smokers are more likely to experience primary and secondary infertility and delays in conceiving.
Women who smoke also run a higher risk of premature rupture of membranes, abraptio placenta (or premature separation of the implanted placenta from the uterine wall), placenta previa and preterm delivery.
Dr Sallehudin said from the evidence to date, it appears that women who smoke are more likely to experience dysmenorrheal or painful menstruation, and premature menopause.
"On average, women who are current smokers go through menopause about one to two years earlier than non-smoking women."
As for cardiovascular disease, he said women who smoke have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease where the risk of coronary heart disease increases with the number of cigarettes smoked daily and with duration of smoking.
"Women who smoke also have elevated risks of ischeamic stroke and subarachnoid haemorrhage as well as markedly increased risk of developing and dying of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), which include chronic bronchitis and emphysema," he noted.
As for cancer, Dr Sallehudin said it was estimated that 14 percent of all cancer deaths among women are attributable to smoking which include cancers of the lung, mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, bladder, pancreas, kidney and cervix.
Other health effects of smoking include peptic ulcer, senile cataracts and facial wrinkling, he said, adding that while not necessarily life-threatening, these conditions can impact considerably on the quality of women's lives.
"The woman's breath and body can smell of stale smoke and her nerves, digestion and finally her face may reveal the damage resulting from consistent oxygen debt," he added.
Dr Sallehudin said global estimates indicate that about 12 percent of women smoke, compared to about 48 percent of men.
However, he emphasized that the epidemic of smoking is increasing rapidly among women, particularly young women and this is also happening in Malaysia. where the rate of smoking women aged 19 years and above has increased from 3.5 percent in 1995 to 5 percent in 2000, whereas for girls aged 12 to 18 years, the rate has also increased from 5 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 2000.
"The cigarette syndrome is particularly acute among the young. Emulating parents who smoke, enticed by the seductive appeal of cigarette smoking in films and on television -- and by one of the most extravagant, irresponsible and successful advertising programmes of all time -- teenage girls are beginning to smoke," he added.
As a result of this rise in smoking, women are dying earlier from diseases that once were comparatively rare to them - diseases of the heart, the blood vessels, the lungs, he lamented.
What then are the toxic substances inhaled in cigarette smoke by the mother and transmitted to the embryo through the placenta?
Dr Sallehudin said among the highly toxic substances are cigarette tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine. The tar, a sticky brown substance, is the main cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers.
"A number of carcinogens are present in tar. Tar can also cause unsightly yellow-brown stains on fingers and teeth. An average '20-pack-a-day' smoker takes in approximately 150 ml of tar in one year," he added.
Heavy smoking also leads to concentrations of carbon monoxide in the blood which increases the risk of prenatal death, reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and decreases heart and muscle function.
As for the highly addictive nicotine, Dr Sallehudin said it sustains smoking behaviour and its consequent exposure to high levels of toxins could lead to growth retardation and developmental retardation in foetuses.
Cigarette smoke itself is estimated to contain over 4,000 compounds, many of which are pharmacologically active, toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic.
In short, as giver and custodian of life, a woman has a special responsibility. She can set an example by renouncing smoking, an ugly and dangerous habit.
And her decision may show up in two mirrors: the one that reflects her face, and the other, on her children.