Smoking hastens menopause
Women who smoke are more likely to go through an early menopause, research has found.
They are also damaging their fertility and, therefore, their chances of conceiving a baby, the study shows.
It says female smokers experience the change of life more than two years earlier than non-smokers.
It also says that chemicals found in cigarettes may harm the eggs stored in a woman's ovaries, affecting their chances of conceiving.
The findings are particularly worrying as more women are delaying motherhood into their late thirties.
Those who put off conception - and are regular smokers - may be more at risk of premature menopause which would damage their dreams of starting a family.
One in six British couples has difficulty conceiving.
Doctors have warned for years that smoking is bad for health, increasing the risks of heart disease and cancer. The latest study, published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online, points to smoking actually harming a woman's ovaries and affecting her fertility.
Doctors concerned for teenagers
Doctors are particularly concerned for large numbers of teenagers who took up smoking in the 1990s and have not quit.
Researchers from the Civitanova Marche General Hospital in Italy studied 350 women attending the hospital's Menopause Centre between 1996 and 2001 and discovered a link between smoking and ovarian failure.
Among those who were smokers, the menopause started at around 47 years of age, compared with almost 49 years, six months in non-smokers.
Women who had stopped producing eggs before the age of 46 were more likely to be smokers.
Lead researcher Dr Filiberto Di Prospero said: "There was a difference of two years in the menopausal onset between the two groups, with a strong statistical significance. This suggests a detrimental effect of cigarette smoking on ovarian function with consequently biological reproductive damage."
He said it was not yet clear how cigarette smoking could influence the onset of the menopause.
But other studies have suggested smoke exposes the body to toxins which affect the genetic make-up of eggs and cause them to die off.
Smoking has also been found to damage DNA in sperm, hampering the healthy development of an embryo.
A German study found that women whose partners did not smoke had nearly twice the success rate in fertility treatment.
Fertility specialist Dr Richard Kennedy, of the British Fertility Society, said the study findings provided 'further confirmation that smoking is detrimental to reproductive health.
"We already know women undergoing IVF have less chance of conceiving if they are smokers, and that nicotine has an adverse effect on egg quality," he added yesterday.
"Clearly, the advice to women who are hoping to conceive is that they should give up smoking as soon as possible."