Tobacco Devastating Women's Health
WASHINGTON (AP) - Tobacco became a leading killer of women in just two generations, said a government report released Tuesday as President Bush's health secretary endorsed federal regulation of tobacco if Congress gives him the power to do so.
``Speaking only for myself, I think tobacco should be regulated,'' Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told reporters. ``It's up to Congress to pass legislation.''
Women now account for 39 percent of the nation's 400,000-plus smoking-related deaths each year, a proportion that has more than doubled since 1965 - giving new meaning to that old cigarette ad ``You've come a long way, baby.''
One woman dies from smoking every 31/2 minutes. Yet women may not fully realize the threat: Lung cancer caused by smoking is now the top female cancer killer, claiming 27,000 more women's lives each year than the breast cancer that women dread so much, said Surgeon General David Satcher.
About one in five women smokes, a rate that hasn't changed much in a decade. Worse, more teen-age girls - 30 percent - are smoking now than 10 years ago.
Add a dramatic jump in tobacco marketing, to a record $8.2 billion in 1999, or nearly $1 million per hour, and without a major change, the nation won't meet its goal of cutting female smoking in half by 2010, Satcher said. The report urges a major nationwide push to fight back.
Satcher pointed to industry ads that lure girls by featuring skinny, sexy women, including a new R.J. Reynolds campaign that says, ``Until I find a real man, I'll take a real smoke.''
``What starts out as a simple puff is turning into a death sentence,'' added Thompson, pledging to travel the country to preach the ``evils of smoking'' as his office hunts new anti-tobacco strategies.
The last big federal attempt to curb smoking - Food and Drug Administration tobacco regulation to prevent cigarette companies from targeting minors - failed in a Supreme Court challenge.
Legislation to reopen FDA regulation is pending.
Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, supports the surgeon general's efforts to alert women about smoking's risks, as well as FDA regulation, said spokesman Michael Pfeil.
``We don't market to children,'' he insisted, noting that the industry's $252 billion settlement of state anti-tobacco lawsuits in 1998 included programs to fight youth smoking. ``Everyone agrees that kids shouldn't smoke.''
Satcher's report sparked an immediate congressional move to help women kick the habit. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., introduced legislation to allow Medicaid to pay for anti-smoking drugs and other cessation therapy for poor women, and to allow elderly Medicare recipients access to smoking cessation counseling.
Quitting dramatically reduces chances of smoking-caused illnesses - eight types of cancer, heart disease and other lung diseases that hit women and men alike.
But women smokers face some unique additional risks: menstrual irregularities and earlier menopause; infertility; bone-thinning osteoporosis; arthritis; cervical cancer; and dangerous blood clots if they use birth control pills.
That's in addition to the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, which include low-birthweight, stillbirths, miscarriages and sudden infant death syndrome.
And ``if you really want to get your surgeon general upset,'' take a baby into those crowded airport smoking lounges where 50 people puff at once, Satcher said. Exposure to secondhand smoke causes asthma and other illnesses in young children and adults.
Some states are effectively fighting female smoking, Satcher said, urging more to follow suit:
-In California, a combination of higher cigarette taxes and massive education caused lung cancer to drop almost 5 percent among California women in the last decade even as it rose by 13 percent elsewhere.
-Powerful ads in Massachusetts show a cigarette pack with a real smoker's photograph, saying, ``WARNING: Pam Laffin died from smoking at 31. How old will you be?''
-And a Florida campaign by teen-agers educating other teens reduced smoking by middle-school girls from 18.1 percent in 1998 to 10.9 percent last year.