Smoking gained wide popularity among men about the time of World War I, Thun told The Nation’s Health, with popularity increasing among women about the time of World War II.
“The relative risks in women have lagged behind those in men for really all of the ways that smoking kills you,” Thun said. “The last very large study that looked at this from the American Cancer Society was in the 1980s. The point of this study was to see how the absolute and relative risks have changed in the last 20 years.”
“Probably the most important implication from our study is the international implication that unless smoking in developing countries can be reduced, they can expect to see, in another 20 or 30 years, the same sort of full consequences that first men and now women have experienced in our country,” Thun said. “This is a huge window of opportunity for prevention.”
About 17 percent of women in the United States smoke, but there are big differences by education, with less educated women being twice as likely to smoke as college graduates. Keeping cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers is perhaps the single most important prevention strategy, but the article emphasizes that quitting at any age improves your survival chances.