"What the cigarette advertisers don't say," insists Dr Alex Milne, a physiologist and the author of Smoking - the Inside Story, "is that smoking changes body shape, increasing the waist-to-hip ratio, piling on fat around the waist. Despite weighing less, smokers tend to be pot- bellied, with spindly legs."
We could be breeding a generation of pot-bellied adults. In the UK, more than 3,000 children between the ages of 11 and 15 get hooked on smoking every week. The number of teenage girls who smoke now outnumbers boys, as young girls are increasingly attracted to smoking in an attempt to emulate their idols, control their weight and look cool.
Patricia B, a 17-year-old sixth- former from west London, who started smoking at 13, is typical. She admits that the image had a lot to do with her taking up smoking.
She says: "Me and my best friend starting smoking Benson & Hedges because Noel and Liam Gallagher did - we saw it as part of a glamorous lifestyle and wanted to copy them. I still smoke Benson & Hedges, but more out of force of habit now."
"I was offered my first cigarette by a friend who said it would calm me down, after I'd had an argument with my parents. Most of my friends smoke constantly during the lunch hour rather than eat. They're on permanent diets, even though they are not fat. I get pounds 2 a day dinner money, and I spend it on cigarettes or we club together with friends to buy fags. So I don't eat lunch."
"I also feel under a lot of pressure to do well and look good - it's hard work holding it all together and smoking relieves some of the stress," Patricia B says.
Dr Milne says: "Teenagers also associate smoking with being grown-up, yet in reality fewer and fewer adults now smoke."
She suggests that smoking interferes with hormones, in particular the sex hormone oestrogen, which influences the body's shape. Amanda Sandford, of the charity Action on Smoking and Health, (ASH) agrees that there is evidence to support Dr Milne's theory.
"Although smokers tend to be slimmer, smoking affects the endocrinal system - the glands that secrete hormones - causing smokers to store the normal amount of fat in an abnormal way, which gives rise to the `apple' shape," Ms Sandford explains.
Apart from the risks associated with smoking, including lung and throat cancer, this body-fat distribution can lead to an increased risk of health problems, including high blood pressure, gall-bladder complaints, heart disease and diabetes (and also, in women, cancer of the womb and breasts).
The redistribution of fat usually takes several years to become apparent, with the exact rate depending on the body's metabolism. "But the good news is that when people stop smoking, the body-fat distribution can more or less revert to normal," says Ms Sandford. "And although people say that when they stop smoking they put on weight, they put it on normally, around their hips, and not the waist."
Joanna O'Malley, a 28-year-old ex-smoker, is convinced that smoking between the ages of 16 and 24 changed her body shape. Ms O'Malley says: "Smoking certainly didn't give me the perfect body or image. I started smoking at 16, partly because I was influenced by my mother, an ex-model. She is beautiful and glamorous and always looked very sophisticated smoking. I was soon smoking 30 a day and although I had slim legs, I had a bloated stomach, which doesn't look very attractive.
"As a teenager it is very difficult not to smoke, as smoking saves you from all those awkward social situations, like being alone at a party with no one to talk to. If I had a cigarette, I always had something to do - rummaging in my bag, or asking someone for a light."
"Although I was a quivering teenager, with a cigarette in my hand I thought I looked tough and cool. I swiftly moved from smoking light cigarettes to stronger ones. I remember smoking Camel filters and Marlboro Red and thinking they weren't strong enough. I wanted to take the filters out, which was what shocked me into quitting."
"Since giving up four years ago, I haven't put on any weight and my stomach has shrunk. I now realise that it was the smoking that was giving me such a pot-belly."
Ms O'Malley now practises "Vacuflex", a type of reflexology involving special vacuum boots, which many people believe can reduce stress, help detoxify the body and cut nicotine cravings (but don't expect your doctor to endorse this, and there is no compelling research to show that it works).
However, Amanda Sandford, of ASH, says there may be benefits: "A lot of complementary therapies do have relaxation as part of their treatment. Anything that will reduce stress stands a reasonable chance of helping someone stop smoking, so it can only be a good thing."
For further information, visit ASH's website at www.ash.org.uk
For a copy of `Smoking - the Inside Story' (pounds 7.99) by Dr Alex Milne, call 01825 723 398. Joanna O'Malley, a Vacuflex therapist and reflexologist, practises at the Heath Natural Health Clinic in London and Guildford (01483 893 845)
CIGARETTES COULD cause:
A bloated stomach or pot-belly (caused by hormonal disruption)
Spindly legs (that oestrogen effect again)
Cellulite (possibly due to changes in fat distribution)
Facial lines, as nicotine restricts the uptake of oxygen into the capillaries
Lines around the mouth, caused by puffing on cigarettes, and around the eyes - squinting is a natural reaction against smoke
Yellowed teeth, fingers and nails, stained by tar
Bad breath, caused by the inhalation of smoke
A possible increase in facial and body hair, giving a generally "hairier" look
A dull complexion, caused by insufficient oxygen reaching the skin