[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
February 23, 1994

Smoking and Young Women: The Physician's Role in Stopping an Equal Opportunity Killer

Author Affiliations

From The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ.

JAMA. 1994;271(8):629-630. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510320069034

Ever since the Baroness de Dudevant (Chopin's mistress, Paris, circa 1840) purportedly became the first woman to don men's trousers and smoke in public,1 smoking by women has become indelibly intertwined with images of independence, fashion, and attractiveness. At the turn of this century, few women smoked. Female smoking prevalence did not exceed 25% until World War II, when it was still half that of men's. Smoking prevalence in men has declined substantially, by almost half, from 51.9% in 1965 to 28.1% in 1991, while women's prevalence has diminished by only about one third, from 33.9% to 23.5%, respectively.2 If these trends continue, smoking prevalence for women may, early in the next century, equal that of men. Women have, indeed, "come a long way."

The uptake of smoking by women evolved via social and economic forces. Smoking became a symbol of emancipation and defiance. This symbolism was not