February is always “Heart Month” as designated by the American Heart Association. This year there is a special emphasis on women and heart disease. None too soon as heart disease is the number 1 killer of adult women, symptoms of heart attacks in women are different from men and are often misdiagnosed, and for years women were intentionally left out of medical research investigating heart disease – yes, the very same #1 killer of women.
Today bloggers are sharing their sites with heart-health information and links to help fight this killer of women because many risk factors are preventable. The strongest, preventable risk factor for heart attacks in women in smoking. You might not smoke, but over 20% of American women (highly dependent on ethnicity) still smoke. Between 10-15% of pregnant women smoke.
Quitting is hard, very hard. Everyone knows smoking is bad – so why does anyone continue to smoke? I am not an apologist for smokers. I don’t smoke, but I worked with smokers in practice and in public health & medical research (non-pharmaceutical) to develop methods to help those who wanted to quit. Nicotine is highly addictive. Women who smoke often are surrounded by others who smoke, and the pressure to continue smoking can be tremendous. Women especially are concerned about weight gain if they quit. Many girls and young women start smoking in attempts to help control their weight. Smoking is used as a stress reducer. (Did you know that nicotine has anti-depressant properties?) Although smoking is being seen at higher levels on college campuses, women who smoke tend to have lower educational levels (they are NOT less smart) and probably are less likely to read blogs or even be on the Internet.
So, why am I blathering on about smoking to those of you who are probably among the most health conscious? Tobacco is a killer of women. You probably know women who smoke or use tobacco products. You also have faced your own battles with food or struggled to exercise and thus have a good understanding of how hard it is to change behaviors. If you have a chance to reach out to a smoker, do so in productive ways. Sure the best method to quit is medication combined with brief counseling (by a doc, pharmacist, nurse, or phone advice). BUT, many people are not ready to quit. Telling them to go buy some Nicorette just turns them off. They know they shouldn’t smoke – just like we know that we should eat better and keep our weight in a healthy range. They need motivation and confidence. How can you help? Here is a list of excellent tips to help you help your friends and family members stop smoking. These are very familiar to us who are trying to change our relationship with food: respect the smoker/quitter while letting her know you are there to help, don’t nag, help them reduce stress, celebrate small steps, don’t offer advice but ask how you can help with whatever plan they are using, keep you own home smoke free, don’t nag (did I mention that?), understand that most quitters take 6-10 serious attempts before becoming successful. You can suggest this site specifically geared toward women, even those not yet ready to quit. This motivational approach is evidence-based and works.
For those of you who have quit, I applaud you for stopping a substance that is as addicting as heroin and causes more damage to pregnancies than cocaine.