The perils of smoker’s face

Charles Gordon January 20 1986

The perils of smoker’s face

Charles Gordon January 20 1986

The perils of smoker’s face


Charles Gordon

Purists may not agree, but it is better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than not to do it

at all.

Take smoking. There are lots of good reasons to quit smoking. Smoking stinks up the house. Smoking causes forest fires. Smoking gives you cancer. It may give other people around you cancer too. If it doesn’t give them cancer, it may cause them to break out in sniffles, coughs and, in some cases, violent attacks of sanctimony.

Facing an expanding forest of No Smoking signs, mounting expressions of moral outrage and a shrinking supply of ashtrays, the smoker is tempted to say the hell with it. He is having a more and more difficult time convincing nonsmokers that their vices are worse than his. He is beginning to lack the courage of his addictions. Only his aversion to moral outrage keeps him smoking. But he is feeling less and less good about it. In his sleep, the word “pariah” repeats itself. One day soon he will look it up.

Is there anything that can push this citizen over the edge, into nonsmokerdom? When fear fails, when moral outrage bounces off without leaving a scratch, when Smokey the Bear’s words fall on deaf ears—what can possibly do the trick?

Smoker’s face, is what. The ultimate persuader. Discovered by a British doctor, announced in the British Medical Journal last month, smoker’s face is, according to wire service reports, “a wrinkled, weary, haggard look that will give you away every time.” The physician in question, Dr. Douglas Model, said that “cigarette smoking causes readily recognizable wrinkling and other changes to the face of many people.” The actor William Holden had smoker’s face, according to Dr. Model. So did the poet W.H. Auden.

To illustrate the power of smoker’s face as a deterrent to smoking, let’s run through those “other changes”:

• Crow’s feet at the corners of the eyes, or other lines or wrinkles radiating at right angles from the upper or lower lips, or deep lines on the cheeks and lower jaw;

• A subtle gauntness, in some cases causing a sinking of the cheeks or a leathery, worn or rugged appearance;

• A slightly grey, orange, purple or red complexion.

You can see How the spectre of

smoker’s face may do the trick where more traditional means of persuasion and blackmail have failed. People do have respect for their lungs, but not enough—for a reason that should have been obvious to us years ago: the lungs, unlike the face, are not worn on the outside of the body. The lungs are not taken into account when beauty is measured. People can brag about their lungs, as some runners do, but the list of songs written about them is not long. Nor is there any record of a lung having launched a thousand ships.

For that you need a face, and a pretty good one too. As Dr. Model put it: “Many people notice the ravages of smoking for the first time when it is pointed out to them that they can be identified by their faces alone.”

Few can doubt the trauma involved there. It is easy enough for the smoker to dismiss the crow’s feet as laugh lines and accept, with thanks, the de-

‘Smokers may wish to consider the possibility that vanity may save some of us where intelligence has failed’

scription of his appearance as rugged. But a grey, orange or purple complexion is something to think about.

“Why is daddy’s face grey, orange and purple, mommy?”

“Perhaps he spilled something on it, dear. Why don’t you ask him?”

To fully appreciate the potential power of smoker’s face, you need only visit the cosmetics section of any drugstore. Don’t stop at the female cosmetics department; look at the male one too—row upon row of products to cover blemishes, tighten the skin and make it smell better. No one would be surprised to learn that Canadians spend more money on their faces than their government gives in aid to Third World countries.

After you check out the cosmetics, take a look at the health section in your local bookstore. Just about every part of the body has its own book there, but the face gets more than most. The Successful Face is one compelling title, with the subtitle: How to look like yourself—only better—in just 10 minutes a day. Vanity sells books and substances in tubes and jars. Next

to our vanity, the power of Lady Nicotine is as nothing.

Also on the decline, according to the most recent statistics, is Lady Alcohol, and for similar reasons. Folks aren’t drinking as much, say the surveys. The bartenders, caterers and taxi drivers agree. The policemen, blocking the roads in search of impaired drivers, are having difficulty finding any. Does this mean we’re coming to our senses?

There are lots of good reasons to quit drinking. Drinking causes cirrhosis of the liver. It causes divorce, murder, traffic accidents and probably forest fires too. It costs money and makes the dinner late. So that’s why people are quitting, right?

Well, not exactly. For one thing, they’re not actually quitting, per se, although the percentage of the population that drinks is down a bit in the last five years. What they’re doing is switching to lighter types of booze— light, or lite, beers, white wines, gin and vodka, coolers, spritzers; stuff that, whether it is lower in alcohol content or not, at least looks like it is.

And why are they doing that? Because of their concern about divorce, traffic accidents or forest fires? No, because of their concern about Lifestyle. Scotch and ale are out. So is red wine. Vodka and white wine are in. So is light beer, or lite beer—there is a difference, known only to those whose job it is to regulate beer commercials.

In the 1980s having a good Lifestyle means being fit, or, more precisely, looking fit. Looking fit means, above all, being able to wear all those nice exercise costumes. They look pretty stupid when worn over a beer belly.

Furthermore, those nice exercise costumes cost money. In the dog-eatdog world in which today’s lite drinkers see themselves, one scotch too many at lunch and it’s all over: no job, no money, no Lifestyle.

It would be wrong to overstate the case. Addiction research experts say that the serious drinker does not worry about his weight, or his job, just as the dedicated smoker does not respond to the threat of a purple and orange face. But it is intriguing to consider the possibility that vanity may save us where intelligence has failed. Some day soon someone may discover that acid rain causes warts and nuclear testing produces oily skin. Then you’ll see some progress in a hurry.

Charles Gordon is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen.