Sure, cigarettes can harm anybody, men and women alike. But some of smoking’s ill effects, from ectopic pregnancy to premature menopause, are reserved for women only.
The growing trend of women smoking is a concern to health experts. Charles Baguma, a coordinator at Uganda Health Communication Alliance, says according to a Global Youth Tobacco Survey done five years ago by the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa, young females have overtaken their male counterparts in the initiation of tobacco use.
The report further notes that more female university students, especially at Makerere University and the corporate class were learning how to smoke the pipe and consume tobacco products such as shisha and cigarettes, among others. Baguma says most females are influenced by peer groups to smoke while others think it is fashionable.
Dr Brian Musinguzi of Total Medical Centre in Luzira, Kampala, says: “Tobacco contains nicotine which is an active component in affecting one’s health. But also, during smoking, carbon monoxide is produced which competes with oxygen,” says Dr Musinguzi.
He adds that the consequences are short and long term depending on how much one is engaged in using tobacco and how fast the nature of the tobacco product acts on the body.
“Chemicals such as nicotine and carbon monoxide are passed from pregnant mothers through the blood stream to the foetus. These toxic chemicals may lead to preterm delivery, low birth weight and miscarriages,” says Dr Musinguzi. He adds: “A pregnant woman who smokes has a high risk of miscarrying and other risks such as placenta abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall).”
He says carbon monoxide produced through tobacco has greater affinity for foetal tissue than adult tissue and when nicotine crosses the placenta; it speeds up the baby’s heart rate. He adds that babies born to mothers using tobacco experience colds, earaches, respiratory problems and illness.
Is a baby part of your future plans? Dr Aloysius Rukundo of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, says since most women who use tobacco products are in a reproductive stage; there is a greater risk of not ovulating. This is because nicotine interferes with the functioning of the fallopian tubes and can hinder an egg from travelling normally to the uterus.
“Decreased ovulatory response as well fertilisation may be impaired in women who consume tobacco products; because chemicals in tobacco may alter cervical fluid making it toxic to sperms causing pregnancy difficult to achieve,” he explains.
Birth control issues
Smoking while using hormonal methods of birth control such as oral contraceptives may result into blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, according to Dr Musinguzi.
“When you combine the effects of nicotine with those of birth control, there is an increased chance of stroke and heart attack, because nicotine causes blood pressure to rise and the heart rate to accelerate; and pills add more stress to the blood vessels because of extra estrogen,” he says.
Risks in breast feeding
“If a breastfeeding mother smokes, then the child is a passive smoker. This results into a direct negative impact on the respiration of the baby with diseases such as pneumonia,” Dr Musinguzi explains.
He says since nicotine stimulates the release of more adrenaline in the body. This could lead to an increased heart rate of the child which is disastrous. “That’s why you hear cases such as a child having a ‘hole’ in the heart,” he notes.
Dr Rukundo says smoking leads to abnormal bleeding, irregular periods, menstrual cramps and premature menopause.
“Heavy smoking increases a woman’s risk of early menopause, especially if one begun it early in life. Having early menopause is because nicotine decreases and interferes with blood supply to the ovaries,” he explains.
For irregular periods and menstrual cramps, he says this is as a result of a decrease in the amount of oxygen available for the uterus. The constriction of the blood vessels in the uterus due to smoking results into severe pain during menstruation.
Women who smoke are more likely to acquire cancer including cervical and breast cancer.
“Most tobacco chemicals contain carcinogenic elements. Throat, lung and oral cancer are common among people who smoke. The coating of nicotine in lungs also destroys normal cells as well creating breathing problems,” Dr Rukundo explains.
He also notes that since most tobacco products are now designed for chewing, tooth decay, stained teeth and smelly breath is a major effect among tobacco users. This, he says results into poor oral hygiene which is bad especially for women.
“Women and men must know that there no health benefits from tobacco. And the big worry is women spend more time with children which may lead to secondary problems on children,” says Charles Baguma, a coordinator at Uganda Health Communication Alliance.
Dr Aloysius Rukundo of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, says women should not expose tobacco products to children since it may result in mental health problems in future.
“I think serious counselling is one of the best treatment so that they can change behaviour. If they agree to quit, it is possible to go for medical treatment,” he advises adding that women can also go for medical checkups to understand nicotine levels in the blood and seek medical treatment.