Don’t Let 2011 Go Up in Smoke: A Gynecologist's Perspective

"Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." — Mark Twain

"Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." — Mark Twain

While kicking the cigarette habit is not the most common New Year’s resolution (losing weight holds that title), it is the resolution that insures the greatest benefit towards a longer, healthier life, especially for women. In addition to the effects smoking has on the lungs and heart, there are a number of obstetric and gynecologic problems that many women are not aware of.

Women planning a future pregnancy should know that smokers have much higher rates of infertility, early aging of eggs and tubal pregnancies. Once pregnant, smokers have a higher risk of complications such as premature labor and placental problems.

But it’s not just about pregnancy. Smoking is responsible for approximately 30% of all cancer-related deaths in the US, including cancers that affect only women, such as cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers. In addition, women who smoke are at greater risk of anal and bladder cancers.

Smoking is also the culprit behind many non-cancerous conditions such as urinary incontinence, osteoporosis and uterine prolapse. Men who smoke are more likely to be impotent (which affects women indirectly, but profoundly!). And did I mention wrinkling and premature aging?

Studies show that approximately 70% of smokers want to quit. Since motivation is the greatest predictor of success, that number is encouraging. But that doesn’t change that ditching cigarettes is one of the hardest resolutions to stick to. Set a quit date (2012 doesn’t count!) and tell your friends and family that you need their support. A number of websites such as and are also great motivators. Then, turn to one of the many smoking cessation products. Whether you chew gum, put on a patch, spray it in your nose, inhale it, or suck on a lozenge, many of them work in the same way, by supplying nicotine to reduce withdrawal symptoms. There are also non-nicotine options like bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban), an antidepressant that has been shown to be a successful aid to stop smoking. The more recently developed pill, varenicline (Chantix™), has been found in multiple studies to be superior to bupropion. It works by stimulating nicotine receptors in the brain to diminish or eliminate nicotine withdrawal symptoms and reduce cigarette cravings. It isn’t magic and it doesn’t work for everyone, but it is currently better than anything else available and could well be the thing that will allow you to finally give up smoking.

Remember that old Virginia Slims ad campaign, “You’ve come a long way baby”? Unfortunately, smoking has made women come a long way in the wrong direction. Start 2011 by eliminating tobacco from your life. As a gynecologist, I can assure you that in addition to your lungs and heart, your bones, bladder, cervix, vulva, vagina and anus will thank you!

Will you ever feel comfortable in your own skin? That is, if you don't make an effort to protect it? Although 64% of adults do report wearing sunscreen when outside for prolonged periods of time, it turns out that only about 10% of people surveyed actually protect themselves daily, according to a recent review.

No matter what your skin tone is, unless you live in a cave with no sunlight, daily protection with either sunscreen, sunblock or protective clothing can not only protect you from developing sunburns (ouch!) but can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, particularly the deadliest type called melanoma. In addition, for those of you wanting to keep your youthful looks, daily sunscreen has been shown to reduce the development of wrinkles. A great teacher once told me that the best way to not have wrinkles is not to get them in the first place (think of how much money you can save on useless creams that claim to diminish wrinkles).

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