Future is not so pretty
Warning to young on effects of smoking
The belief among many young woman that smoking is associated with a positive, slim body image was described as a "public health tragedy" by a leading Ulster doctor.
Dr Peter Maguire, chairman of Science in the British Medical Association, was speaking in the wake of latest expert opinion that smokers will be aged by up to 20 years as a result of their habit.
"The reality is that it kills and very rapidly affects appearance, leading to smokers having older looking skin," said Dr Maguire.
The damage, according to the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, includes deeper wrinkles, crows feet and a yellow-grey skin colour. The underlying biological changes that lead to so-called "smoker's face" are not understood, but may be due to damage to small blood vessels in the skin.
Even passive smokers will suffer irreversible damage, said Sir Liam.
The Government's principal medical adviser criticised the tobacco, fashion and media industries for linking cigarettes with glamour.
Department of Health advice, issued alongside Sir Liam's report, says that the "use of smoking as a cachet in the modelling industry is totally incompatible with one of its principal aims - to promote beauty".
Smoker's skin is more likely to slough - fall off - after surgery than that of non-smokers.
Sir Liam has called for a ban on smoking in public places, similar to that in the Republic of Ireland.
The call for a ban was backed by Dr Maguire, a Newry-based consultant, who said there was "no doubt" in scientific research that smoking affected the ageing of the skin.
"I was at a 10 year university reunion last year and the people who had smoked continuously for a decade, particularly the women, had such different skin compared to their peers," he said. "It was really noticeable, even in people in their 30s."
Dr Maguire, an anaesthetist at Daisy Hill, said that the effects become more pronounced with time, so someone in their mid-50s could have the skin quality of someone in their 70s who does not smoke.
Dr Maguire said that the smoking ban in the Republic had already cut smoking rates and a similar prohibition should be introduced in the UK.