More than 16 million people who identify as women and girls in the United States reported smoking in 2021, according to a May 2021 report from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, of which ONS is an active member, who partnered with several leading women’s organizations on the study. Female smokers are also significantly more likely than men to use menthol cigarettes, and e-cigarette use among high school girls rose by 89% from 2017–2020.

Big Tobacco has used its marketing tactics to target those who identify as female since the 1920s. And even after consistent product standards and education campaigns, the tobacco industry remains one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill. As a direct result of predatory marketing techniques, smoking-related health risks for female populations have spiked sharply over the past 50 years.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed nine out of 10 lung cancer deaths to smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke. Additionally, smoking is a major risk factor for reproductive issues, Alzheimer disease, osteoporosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular diseases, and age-related macular degeneration that can lead to blindness.   

“For the first time ever, women who smoke are as likely as men to die from many of the diseases caused by smoking,” the report authors noted.

Approximately 70% of female smokers reported an interest in quitting, and 55% of U.S. women reported an attempt to quit each year. However, nicotine is highly addictive, and Big Tobacco has a long history of exploiting personal and professional aspirations, body images, and perceived insecurities to encourage women to smoke. The tobacco industry has also disproportionately targeted Black and Latina women through a broad range of marketing efforts, including sponsorship of community events, magazine advertising, retail promotions, and even a music-themed campaign promoting smoking among Black and Hispanic youth.  

“To create better health outcomes, it is imperative that policymakers implement solutions to help women and girls quit smoking and prevent young people from ever starting to use tobacco products,” the authors wrote. “These actions will benefit women and girls for decades to come.”

Actionable policies oncology nurses can advocate for include:

  • Expand smoking cessation programs and services.  

  • Ban all flavored products, including menthol cigarettes.  

  • Implement proven cessation solutions like cigarette tax increases, well-funded tobacco prevention and support programs, and comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws.  

People are more likely to attempt and succeed at quitting after receiving advice, even brief, from a healthcare professional, but 40% of female smokers who saw a clinician in the past year reported not receiving smoking cessation advice. Integrating tobacco control into nursing education programs increased awareness, empathy, and the rate at which nurses initiate the conversations.  

ONS actively advocates for smoking cessation and stricter tobacco regulations through position statements and its annual health policy agenda. Oncology nurses are in a strategic position to leverage the public’s trust and offer crucial patient education and support. Learn how you can advocate for smoking cessation at policy level, and explore ONS Voice for more patient-centered resources, the latest research on tobacco treatment, clinical advice on lung cancer prevention, and strategies for conversations with patients.