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            Volume 10 |Issue 36 | September 23, 2011 |


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What Women Smokers Risk



Long gone are the days that one sees in the villages, women passing lazy afternoons taking generous puffs from their biris (locally made unfiltered cigaretts). There used to be a strange sophistication in that tradition, and it has evolved to young city girls in fancy lounges smoking foreign brand cigarettes. No doubt the popularity of women smoking is an offshoot of the notion of liberation or defying convention. Unfortunately, despite health concerns, smoking has become more and more attractive and the number of female smokers are rapidly rising.

Acessibility is perhaps the main reason for this. Nowadays there are many lounges all over Dhaka which allows women to comfortably have what they want without attracting unwanted attention.

So why do women smoke?

"When I'm stressed out a quiet corner and a cigarette helps," says Nisha (not her real name) a young smoker who studies at a private university in Dhaka. There are now more young women and teenagers having access to cigarettes and hence getting addicted. "It is a fad that the young are ever greedy to try out as many of their favourite TV stars are smokers" says Farzana a young lecturer at East West University.

Many people feel that it is no big deal, "If a guy can smoke and it is not an issue why should it be any different, of course the health hazards are there but that has not stopped the production or the revenues earned from the industry," opines Sufi another young fellow student.

Shaila, a student of BRAC University agrees: "It is not a matter of who smokes and why. The point is it should be discouraged because it is bad for the health and awareness must be ensured. We young people have a tendency to do what we are told not to, just for the thrill of it and have the delusion that the possible consequences are far off."

Moreover as they start young they are hardly aware of what they are subjecting their health to. Finally when they do face the grim realities it is already too late. "I know it's harmful but it's just a matter of time as long as I can quit at the right time" says a teenager who is allowed to smoke at home as long as it is out on the veranda and it is not marijuana or any other narcotic.

So how bad is smoking for women?

Women smokers suffer all the consequences of smoking that men do such as increased of risk various cancers (lung, mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, pancreas, kidney, and bladder) and respiratory diseases. None the less, there are also complications that uniquely affect women. Women who smoke face significantly higher cardiovascular health risks than men do suggests a major study on women and smoking released by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, found that women who smoke not only face a 25 percent higher risk of contracting heart disease but that, unlike men, their risk increases with each year they continue to smoke. According to Professor Dr Arup Ratan Chowdhury, founder director of Association For The Prevention of Drug Abuse (MANASH) and writer of countless journals on smoking and the hazards related to it, states that smoking is already causing about one-sixth of all deaths in developed countries. “This proportion is still rising mainly due to the increasing smoking habit among women,” he says, referring to the increase in female smokers contributing to a greater population of smokers.

“Also, Hookah better known a Shisha is very harmful and this is also something that is on the rise. It also encourages young women and teenagers to smoke” says Dr Arup who has recently returned from a leadership programme at Baltimore, USA which among others discussed Shisha smoking. According to their studies; one pull at the Shisha is a 100 times as harmful as a pull at the cigarette; “Shisha promotes the tendency to smoke as a next level of smartness”.

As a dentist Dr Arup also highlights the fact that smoking results in cancer of the throat, stomach and even is responsible for gangrene type diseases. “We are running a campaign to pass the bill on provision of pictorial warning on not just cigarette packets but also Biri and Jorda containers. Smoking for young girls is a very dangerous issue that they fail to appreciate.”

There are many ways pregnant women would be affected due to continuous smoking.

Respiratory and Reproductive Problems: When a pregnant mother smokes the quantum of oxygen that she inhales gets reduced. Similarly, carbon dioxide is not fully exhaled from the body. The oxygen will be insufficient to meet a mother's own needs. A small quantity of oxygen is passed from the mother to the baby. The baby also gets more carbon-mono-oxide because the entire quantity is not exhaled from her body. Ultimately both the mother and the child will be breathing poisonous gases like carbon dioxide and will breath less oxygen and suffer from all sorts of respiratory problems.

Pregnant women who smoke run the risk of damaging their child's reproductive system and affect the child when he/she is an adult. The semen count could be reduced in cases of males. Impotency can also be a consequence. In the case of females the ovary and fallopian tubes may be damaged which may result in inability to conceive.

Now, direct smoking is bad enough but the scene only gets uglier when one thinks of other ways that women maybe affected by smoking or being around other women and men who smoke. A baby is also affected by passive smoking. If the husband of the pregnant woman smokes, the baby and the mother get equally affected. Similarly, if other people who visit a pregnant woman smoke around her the baby can get affected as well. It is therefore advisable to ask the partners and others to refrain from smoking around pregnant women.

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