Feature Archive

Kick Butts Now!

It may not be so easy for women smokers.

WebMD Feature

June 5, 2000 -- When she was 16, Jill McCain (not her real name) started smoking as a way to tarnish her good-girl image. By the time she graduated from college, she was a pack-a-day smoker. Like 22.5 million other American women, she was hooked.

McCain has lost track of the number of times she tried to quit over the years. A succession of half-hearted attempts -- everything from using the nicotine patch, to going cold turkey, to phasing out the number of cigarettes she smoked each day -- slowly wore her down. Last spring, however, the Conshohocken, Penn., dancer suddenly had a new incentive: Her boyfriend, a nonsmoker, popped the question. She accepted -- and resolved, once and for all, to be smoke-free by their wedding date.

Her vow couldn't have come at a better time. The United States is on the verge of breaking an unflattering record: It will soon be the first country where women and men smoke in equal numbers, says the American Lung Association (ALA). This dubious distinction comes on the heels of studies indicating that women who smoke face greater cancer risks than previously thought -- and that it's even harder for them to quit than expected.

Women at Increased Risk

It's long been known that women are more likely to die of lung cancer than men. In 1999 alone, an estimated 68,000 women died of the disease, according to the ALA. Now scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have begun to figure out why.