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Gender Differences and Tobacco

Gender Difference: A Meaningful Distinction

Both sex and gender are relevant for tobacco control. While sex refers to the biological differences between women and men, gender refers to the array of socially constructed roles and relationships, personality traits, attitudes, behaviors, values, relative power and influence that society ascribes to the two sexes on a differential basis. Men and women are affected differently by tobacco use and tobacco messaging, and smoking rates alone differ between men and women.

Get facts about smoking rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Find more information about how smoking affects Special Populations.

Gender & Tobacco

Gender differences are apparent in the way men and women are affected by tobacco and influenced by tobacco messaging. Some studies have indicated the following results:

Read the Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking. Note: large file - will take a few seconds to load.

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The Impact on Health

When it comes to health, tobacco poses specific threats for men and women. Men risk declines in fertility and sexual potency, and female smokers risk increased cardiovascular disease, in particular while using oral contraceptives, and higher rates of infertility, premature labor, low birth weight infants, cervical cancer, early menopause, and bone fractures.

Smoking during pregnancy adversely affects fetal development. Female non-smokers are more likely to be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, which elevates the risks of lung cancer and heart disease.

Diseases that are more prevalent or manifest differently in women include cardiovascular disease,
substance abuse and addiction, and lung diseases such as cancer and asthma.

Read the American Medical Association report Women's Health: Sex- and Gender-Based Differences in Health and Disease.

Gender Differences with Lung Cancer & Smoking

Other research indicates differences in the risk between men and women when it comes to lung cancer. A study by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute confirms findings that the occurrence rates for major lung cancer types are consistently higher for women than for men at every level of exposure to cigarette smoke – a difference likely due to the higher susceptibility to tobacco carcinogens in women.

Read about the Differences in Lung Cancer Risk Between Men and Women: Examination of the Evidence from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Exploiting Gender Differences to Promote Tobacco

Through comprehensive social research, the tobacco industry understands popular culture and psycho-social aspirations, and it incorporates this knowledge into its massive promotional efforts as it seeks new markets and sustains existing ones. Prevailing gender norms are a key feature within promotion for both sexes. When users realize how they are targeted, it is a significant step toward reducing vulnerability.

Learn more about Gender, Health and Tobacco.

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Researchers have found a significant difference in quitting success between men and women, as well as between men (when compared to other men) and between women (when compared to other women). Past attempts at quitting smoking, adherence to bupropion medication, body mass index, stress, depression, and education are all factors that have an impact on a person’s chances of quitting smoking successfully. Some factors make more of a difference for a woman’s chance of success while other factors matter more to men.

Read about Gender Differences in Smoking and Cessation Behaviors Among Adults After Implementation of Local Comprehensive Tobacco Control.

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New Opportunities for Clinicians

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