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Report: Smoking Affects Women Much More than Men

Today's new report by the American Lung Association says millions of women may have undiagnosed lung problems, and that they are more susceptible than men to the effects of tobacco smoke.
Today's new report by the American Lung Association says millions of women may have undiagnosed lung problems, and that they are more susceptible than men to the effects of tobacco smoke.
June 5, 2013

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Women are 37 percent more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than men, and millions of women have symptoms that have gone undiagnosed, according to a report released today by the American Lung Association.

Smoking is a huge issue, said Dr. Steven Brown, a pulmonary specialist who has practiced for 25 years in Milwaukee. The first wave of women with COPD was during World War II when women began smoking at work, Brown said.

"But they've been replaced by a much bigger wave of women, who I refer to as the Virginia Slims generation," Brown said. "These are women who were, unfortunately, duped by tobacco marketing during the 1960s, where tobacco was linked to the women's movement, very inappropriately."

COPD now is the nation's third leading cause of death, according to the American Lung Association, and in Wisconsin more than 128,000 women currently have it. Brown, medical director of the Lung Center of Milwaukee, said women are more susceptible than men to the problems associated with tobacco smoke.

"Their lung size is smaller than men's lung size, and therefore the amount of tobacco per unit of lung tissue is going to be greater," Brown said. "A pack of cigarettes in a woman is going to be spread out over a smaller area and therefore is going to be more concentrated."

Since 2000, according to the report, COPD has claimed the lives of more women than men, and Brown said women now account for 60 percent of the patients he sees. The number of deaths among women from COPD has more than quadrupled since 1980.

Brown said the best way to combat this problem is with education.

"We need to continue our intensive efforts to eliminate smoking, because the No. 1 cause of COPD is tobacco abuse," Brown said. "That starts at the level of the elementary school. Intensive education throughout the school system is very helpful in avoiding creating lifelong smokers."

States also need to continue to legislate against the effects of secondhand smoke, he said.

The report is online at lung.org/copdinwomen.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI