Disparities: When Women Quit Smoking
Women who quit smoking have more improvement in lung function compared with men who quit, a government study appearing in the current American Journal of Epidemiology has found.
A year after women quit, the improvement in one measure of lung function is 2.3 times as high as that in men, the study says.
Still, among the 5,300 middle-aged smokers and former smokers studied, all with mild or moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, men and women breathed easier after quitting.
"The first message is, it's never too late to quit," said Dr. Gail Weinmann, a lung specialist with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which supported the study.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the researchers said, is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States, and includes ailments like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The study followed the health of its participants over five years. Among other tests, the researchers measured the volume of air exhaled per second by the study subjects to gauge lung function. One year after quitting, the women did much better than the men, although the difference narrowed over the course of the study.
Why is there any difference at all? It may be that men have less damage to repair.
"It's long been the hypothesis that women are more susceptible to the effects of smoking, and it's hard to know why," Dr. Weinmann said. One possibility, she said, is that in general women have smaller lungs and smaller airways.