National Women's Health Policy

Tobacco use

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

The rates of smoking in Australia have declined over time; however, it remains the single most preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia.138

Tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, numerous cancers (including lung, mouth and cervical), and other diseases and conditions.

Young women in Australia are more likely than young men to be daily smokers.139 Younger women also have high rates of smoking, at 17 per cent for females aged 12–24 years in 2004.140

From a biological perspective, an increasing body of evidence suggests that women’s bodies are more vulnerable than men’s to effects of tobacco and other smoke. Differences in lung anatomy, genetics and physiology between men and women may increase the harm from exposure to smoke for women. It has been suggested than women may suffer earlier and more severe effects from cigarette smoke because toxic substances accumulate in smaller airways and persist in the lungs and because their bodies metabolise smoke differently. Women are also at increased risk of breast cancer due to smoking or exposure to smoke, particularly during adolescence.141

Gender relations between men and women may reduce women’s ability to control their exposure to passive smoking.142 Women are also more likely to use smoking as a means of coping with stress, have a harder time quitting and require more social support when quitting than men.143 144

For young and mid-age women who have experienced violence, there seems to be an association with increased smoking rates and very high rates of smoking during pregnancy
for severely abused women.145

Smoking is more common amongst Australians of lower socioeconomic status and Indigenous Australians, compared to the broader population.146 Compared to non- Indigenous women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were almost 2.5 times more likely to be current daily smokers.147 Smoking is also more likely amongst females in regional areas than those in major cities.148 This difference was particularly marked among women aged 25–44 years. 149 Lesbian and bisexual women are another group who report high rates of tobacco use.150