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More bad news for women who smoke.

Researchers writing in the Lancet, one of the world's most prominent medical journals, say women who smoke face much higher cardiovascular risks than men, even if they smoke for similar lengths of time. The finding is particularly worrisome because "the tobacco industry views women as its growth market," according to a commentary published along with the study.

Of course, male smokers still face cardiovascular risks. Smoking is also linked to chronic lung problems, some forms of cancer and a host of other health problems.

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In the new study, researchers led by Rachel Huxley from the University of Minnesota and Mark Woodward of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore examined 86 previous studies looking at the health effects of smoking on about four million people.

They determined that women who smoke face a 25-per-cent higher risk of developing coronary heart disease than men.

They also found that the heart risks to women increase each year they smoke when compared with the risks to men who have smoked for a similar length of time.

Although it's unclear why female smokers may have a greater likelihood of developing coronary heart disease, researchers suspect there may be physiological differences at play that make women more vulnerable to the toxic effects of cigarettes.

The commentary by cancer specialist Matthew Steliga of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Carolyn Dresler of the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program at the Arkansas health department warns these findings could have serious implications.

Men have traditionally had higher smoking rates than women and tend to smoke more cigarettes a day. But as smoking rates have begun to decline, there are signs that may shift. In many developing countries, where restrictions on tobacco advertising and marketing are much looser, several companies are openly and aggressively courting young women, according to a report published last year.

"Thus, despite some success in reduction of smoking prevalence in men, the rise or even stabilization of smoking in women will unfortunately result in substantial, preventable coronary heart disease morbidity and mortality," Dr. Steliga and Dr. Dresler wrote.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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