Smoking can ruin sex life, says Ash

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CIGARETTE PACKETS should carry a new warning - that smoking may leave you incapable of sex, according to campaigners.

In a message aimed at teenage smokers, researchers say there is now overwhelming scientific evidence that smoking causes impotence.

By the time they hit their thirties, heavy smokers will start to feel the effects of artery-clogging tobacco. An estimated 120,000 men aged 30 to 49 are impotent because of smoking, latest figures show.

A report by Ash, the pressure group, and the British Medical Association, published today, says that despite the well documented link between smoking and erectile dysfunction few men are aware of the risks. Although ``smoker's droop'' is less serious than cancer or heart disease, anti-smoking campaigners believe its impact on teenagers, who think themselves immortal, will be greater.

A survey conducted by Mori showed 88 per cent of men failed to identify smoking as a cause of impotence. After prompting with a list of possible answers, two-thirds of men still did not make the link.

Clive Bates, director of Ash, said: ``We reckon there are lots of men who would prefer to give up smoking rather than risk losing something as precious as their erection. But it appears that most smokers are unaware of the risks. This might be a more immediate reason for men in their twenties to quit [than warnings of cancer and heart disease]. It is also a reality check on all the style, sex and glamour that is supposed to be associated with smoking.''

The British Medical Association said it was pressing the Government and the European Union to add a new health warning - ``Smoking causes male sexual impotence'' - to tobacco packaging.

Dr Bill O'Neill of the association said: ``It is staggering that so few smokers realise there is a link. I think a stark warning on cigarette packets could really play an important part in motivating male smokers to give up cigarettes. Young men are notoriously resistant to health warnings... but the prospect that they might also wreck their sex lives might just make them stop and think."

Achieving an erection depends on maintaining sufficient blood flow through the arteries and veins of the penis. Smoking clogs up the arteries in the same way that it damages heart vessels, through the long-term build up of fatty deposits.

Nicotine also has an effect. The build-up of nicotine in the tissues of the penis causes dilation of the veins, making it difficult to maintain an erection. Smoking also affects fertility by damaging sperm, cutting their number and reducing the volume of ejaculate. The BMA says cigarettes should also carry the warnings, "Smoking damages sperm" and "Smoking can damage your sex life".

About one in 10 men is estimated to be impotent and in three quarters there is a physical cause. Circulatory disorders are the commonest physical cause and smokers have a 50 per cent higher risk of impotence in their thirties and forties than non-smokers.

Impotence may be an early warning sign of other damage to the blood vessels.