Are women more sensitive to smoking than men? Findings from the Renfrew and Paisley study

Int J Epidemiol. 2001 Aug;30(4):787-92. doi: 10.1093/ije/30.4.787.


Background: Prescott et al. found that the relative risks associated with smoking for respiratory and vascular deaths were higher for women who inhale than for inhaling men, and found no gender differences in relative risks of smoking-related cancers. The purpose of the present study was to assess whether these findings are reproducible, using data from the Renfrew and Paisley study.

Methods: Age-standardized mortality rate differences and age-adjusted mortality rate ratios (using Cox's proportional hazard model) were calculated for male and female smokers by amount smoked compared with never smokers. These analyses were repeated after excluding non-inhalers.

Results: The all-cause mortality rate ratio was higher for men than for women in all categories of amount smoked, although this difference was only statistically significant in the light smokers (1.83 [95% CI : 1.61-2.07] for men and 1.41 [95% CI : 1.28-1.56] for women, P = 0.001). The cause-specific mortality rate ratios tended to be higher for men than for women, and this difference was most substantial for neoplasms (2.57 [95% CI : 2.01-3.29] for male light smokers and 1.35 [95% CI : 1.14-1.61] for female light smokers, P < 0.001) and, in particular, for lung cancer (11.10 [95% CI : 5.89-20.92] for male light smokers and 4.73 [95% CI : 2.99-7.50] for female light smokers, P = 0.03). Furthermore, looking at the rate differences the effects of smoking were uniformly greater in men than in women. These results were virtually unchanged after excluding non-inhalers.

Conclusion: We found similar results to Prescott et al. when all smokers were considered, but could not reproduce their findings when non-inhalers were excluded. Given the fact that we showed greater rate differences in men than in women, we think that it is too early to conclude that women may be more sensitive than men to some of the deleterious effects of smoking.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / mortality*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires