In a woman’s journey to aspire for gender equality, she can live like a man, dress in jeans, work in previously male-dominated fields, and now she can die like a man, too. Since the 50s, women have been celebrating their new-found liberation by lighting up their cancer sticks. Consequently, women have suffered a dramatic increase in lung cancer rates in recent decades leading to lung cancer becoming the lead cause of cancer death for women in the United States.
The Office of the U.S. Surgeon General calls it an “epidemic.” The problem is that women are starting to smoke as girls. By their first year of high school, one in three girls has tried smoking at least once. Seniors who smoked admitted to smoking frequently, and using other tobacco products besides cigarettes. Some quit after high school, and smoking rates hover around one in five among adult women.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a survey showing smoking trends across the United States up to 2008. Their results show a distinct pattern: younger women are getting a taste for cancer sticks, and men are trying to quit. Most young women who are picking up the habit live in the northeast and the south while their western countrymen (and women) are picking up the nicotine patch. According to the CDC’s findings, people who quit, women included, had improved long-term health, while those that didn’t developed smoking-related illnesses and had shorter lifespans.
With all of smoking’s negative impacts on health, it might seem like quitting smoking should be easy. Everyone likes breathing, right? Lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other diseases caused by smoking get in the way of breathing. The addictive power of nicotine is too strong for a human’s sense of self-preservation. By sheer happenstance, nicotine chemically resembles dopamine’s signature. Dopamine is the chemical that makes the brain feel satisfied, and once satisfied, the brain likes to continue to feel satisfied, even if it’s a bad habit. Like that double Baconator from Wendy’s, nicotine is too good to let go even as it slowly strangles your heart.
It’s good advice to everyone, not just women, to quit smoking. Women should strive to be equal to men, but maybe it’s not a good thing to be equal to men in every way.