What Smoking 3 Cigarettes A Day Really Looks Like

Wow.

Sometimes it's hard to believe something until you see it for yourself. We're all familiar in theory with the long-term effects of smoking — including increased risks of heart disease, emphysema and many types of cancers — but it can be hard, once outside of the context of a high school health class, to make them feel like an imminent concern. 

In a Sept. 2 video from BuzzFeed, three twentysomethings who regularly smoke had the potential consequences of their habit made powerfully real.

Meet Meredith.

The 28-year-old told BuzzFeed that she never really smoked until college, when she began having the occasional social cigarette while drinking with her classmates. It's since become a full-blown habit and she now says that she might smoke three or four in a day — more, if drinking.

And although some might describe Meredith's habit as "light," that doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. One 2010 study found that light smokers have nearly the same risk for cardiovascular disease as heavier smokers that might smoke as many as 23 cigarettes a day. Women who smoke a few times a day are also at substantially increased risk for lung and gastrointestinal cancers.

Meredith, like the others in the video, suggested she wanted to participate to see if it could change her mind about smoking. She's tried to quit before, but hasn't been successful.

"I'm upset with myself that I have decided to pick up this habit," she said. 

The video shows the three millennials undergoing a compelling physical transformation that represents what they might actual experience should they continue smoking. Under the direction of Dr. Taylor Hays, director of the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center, beautician T. Justine Reilly applied layers of makeup to them to mimic a smoker's sped-up aging process. 

Smoking ages the skin in a number of ways: by thinning blood vessels and reducing all-important circulation, by decreasing red blood cell production, and by damaging the collagen and proteins necessary for skin to remain elastic.

"Hopefully seeing the physical changes to my face [will] help me make a positive choice in my life to quit smoking," Meredith said.

After a lot of hard work, it was finally time for the big reveal.

All three twentysomethings were understandably shocked at how "old" they looked.

They'd aged 20 or 30 years over the course of half an hour — and it showed. Deep-looking wrinkles lined their mouths and their cheeks "sagged" heavily to demonstrate the nicotine-fueled loss of elasticity. Even their teeth were stained an uncomfortable yellow.

It was a major wake-up call. And even though their concerns were primarily cosmetic, the damage obviously doesn't stop there. As Meredith observed in the video, the worst is happening even further beneath the surface.

"If this is what my outside appearance looks like just from smoking cigarettes, then I cannot even imagine what my insides look like," she said.

The experiment successfully made the danger of smoking real for the twentysomethings.

Although they acknowledged that it was going to be difficult, after seeing their harrowing maybe-future, all three said they wanted to either try to start smoking less, or to quit altogether.

"It's not worth it," Meredith said.