Female smokers enter into the menopause sooner

Female smokers enter into the menopause sooner

Seminar on passive smoking, fathers and the menopause

29-09-2021 · Background

It is more difficult for women to quit smoking than for men. At the same time, women’s health suffers more because of it. And if they themselves don’t smoke, it appears that they are often passive smokers.

More than one third of men in the world smoke, compared to a mere 6 per cent of women. Compared to other European countries, the number of female smokers in the Netherlands is high: 18 per cent, compared to 23 per cent of males. The gap between the sexes is narrowing, also because women are less quick to stop smoking.

They make just as many attempts to stop as men, says researcher Hedwig Vos from Leiden. She was one of the speakers during an online seminar last week on sex, gender and smoking, set up by research institute Caphri. “Nevertheless, the success rate among women is 31 per cent lower. This is mainly caused by mental issues such as stress, a negative self-image and mood complaints. Consider the fact that women deal with domestic violence more often.”

In the meantime, the damage to health in women is more serious. Vos: “The risk of lung cancer is greater for them, they appear to be more sensitive for carcinogenic substances. But breast cancer is also more prevalent, as are cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility.”


Smoking also affects the menopause; women who smoke go through the menopause on average two years earlier. American research by McKenzie Peltier, one of the speakers who works at Yale University, showed, moreover, that there is a connection between the hormonal regulation and smoking behaviour. 

Peltier observed 1,397 female smokers for years and this showed that women smoke less during the menopause when they have more oestradiol, a female hormone from the oestrogen group. This, while more testosterone is linked to a greater chance of relapse. According to Peltier, these are important points to be considered for an anti-smoking programme, although more hormone research is necessary.


If women themselves don’t smoke, they are often victims of passive smoking. Half of all deaths worldwide as a result of passive smoking, are female, one quarter are children (younger than five years). It may be less damaging than smoking, but it can cause the same diseases. According to the Trimbos Institute, 10 per cent of the Dutch are passive smokers on a regular basis and 5 per cent on a daily basis.

Rachel O’Donnell, connected to the University of Stirling in Scotland, carried out research into smoke-free homes. How can you encourage men and women not to smoke indoors? “What is noticeable, is that most studies focus on the mothers. But what do fathers actually think about a smoke-free home? And what are their experiences? After all, they smoke the most.”

During the interviews that O’Donnell held with smoking fathers, she noticed that they had sufficient knowledge about passive smoking and its damaging effects. At the same time, many fathers felt guilty and thought that they could do more to protect their children (and wife). Sometimes, psychiatric problems get in the way. One father reckoned: ‘If I feel bad, I don’t want to confront the neighbours with that, so I smoke in the kitchen.’

A strategy to get fathers to give up smoking would have to link up to two issues that men consider important. O’Donnell: “They really want to be good fathers and part of that is protecting their children. Also, they want to set a good example, to be a positive role model.”