Women smokers are at a greater risk than at any time in recent decades from smoking-related illnesses such as lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, or cardiovascular diseases.
That's according to a new study
, reported in the “New England Journal of Medicine,” showing that women also have caught up with men in terms of their chances of developing ailments connected with smoking.
The study looked at the medical records of more than 2.2 million women in the United States between 2000-2010.
It showed that female smokers in recent years were 25.7 times more likely to die from lung cancer than those who never smoked – a level reached by men in the 1980s.
In the 1960s, it was only 2.7 times higher.
Sarah Williams, health information officer at the health charity Cancer Research UK, told RFE/RL that this trend is likely to repeat itself in developing countries.
"In areas of the world where people tend to have taken to smoking later on or more recently, it's definitely worrying that the number of [women] dying from diseases like lung cancer is likely to start rising," she said.
According to the researchers, women smokers are at a greater risk from smoking-related illnesses partly because they are starting earlier and smoking more cigarettes.
According to Williams, the proliferation of "light" and "mild" cigarette brands marketed toward women can also explain the increase in adverse health consequences.
"Evidence has shown that the way people smoke these cigarettes is slightly different," she said. "People would tend to inhale more strongly so they pull the smoke deeper into their lungs. So they're not less harmful for you."
Earlier research suggested that smokers lose about 10 years over their lifetimes compared to people who have never started.
Devastating In Russia, Eastern Europe
On a more positive note, the new survey shows that men and women who quit by age 40 avoid “nearly all” the excess risk of death from smoking.
"What the new studies show is that if women smoke like men, they die like men, that the hazards of smoking are a lot bigger than had previously been estimated," said Richard Peto, a professor of medical statistics at Oxford University. "But the benefits of stopping are also a lot bigger than had previously been estimated."
Peto maintains that smoking-related hazards are particularly devastating in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other Eastern European countries where smoking is the second-most important cause of premature death -- after alcohol.
"It's causing about a quarter of all the premature deaths in Russia and there is an increasing number of deaths from smoking among women in Russia -- although it's much more the men than the women," he said.
"And if we are going to have any effect on the number of deaths over the next few decades from smoking, it has to be from those who now smoke stopping to smoke. This is what has happened in Western Europe, and it's what needs to happen in Eastern Europe."