A LISKEARD woman is demanding the Government put her picture on cigarette packets as a health warning – after blaming her 20-a-day habit for the loss of her legs.
Former barmaid Victoria Marks, 41, puffed her first cigarette aged 13 and smoked heavily through her teens and twenties.
Mother of four Victoria gave up ten years ago when she was 31 but by then had developed a rare and devastating form of thrombosis called Buerger's disease.
The little-known condition slowly starved Victoria's limbs of blood, meaning both her legs had to be amputated.
She is now confined to a wheelchair and so desperate to spare others the same anguish that she wants to see photos of her body on the side of cigarette packets.
Victoria, who lives with husband Scott, 42, and youngest daughter Beth, 11, said: "There needs to be more done to inform people of the dangers of smoking – and not just the major diseases but the rare and life-changing ones too.
"If anything, the Government should put pictures of real people like me on the side of cigarette packets if they really want the message about smoking to hit home."
Victoria was aged 26 when she first suffered pain in her legs and swelling in her ankles but she put it down to long shifts and being on her feet all day behind the bar.
But the pain got worse over the following years and she decided to get it checked out. After months of tests she was diagnosed with Buerger's disease.
By May 2006, with Victoria in excruciating pain and unable to walk, medics decided to amputate her lower left leg.
A week after the operation she developed an infection and doctors had to remove more of the limb above the knee.
After coming to terms with her illness and learning to walk with a prosthetic limb, Victoria started feeling similar pains in her right leg in December 2012. Her doctor called her an ambulance and within hours a consultant had broken the news that the tissue was dead and she risked gangrene if the limb wasn't removed immediately.
Buerger's disease causes chronic inflammation of the blood vessels, which narrows the arteries and eventually damages and kills tissue in the limbs.
The cause is unknown but medics say the use of tobacco is a key factor and it normally only occurs in men aged over 45.
Victoria said: "I'd never heard of the disease before and there wasn't much information about it online.
"It wasn't until a year later that I discovered that the condition affected smokers and the best thing to do would be to quit the habit.
"But it was too late, the damage was done. I gave up smoking ten years ago but had my first amputation three years later. I'm always on tenterhooks waiting for the day when I have to have my arms amputated too. Every little pain I feel in my arms, I worry and panic."
Victoria used to enjoy coastal walks and bike rides with Scott and Beth, and her older children Chris, 24, Charlotte, 22, and Jack, 20, but now relies on Scott as her round-the-clock carer and needs Beth to help with the cooking and housework.
She has undergone 14 separate operations in the past decade but there is no known cure.
Victoria said: "I have no doubt that Buerger's disease was caused by smoking.
"By the age of 18 I was addicted and smoking 20 fags a day. I knew it was bad for me, but I kept telling myself that I would give up when I was older.
"If, as a 13-year-old girl, I had read and seen that smoking could lead to the amputation of my legs, I would have stopped there and then. Putting more people like me on the cover of the cigarette packets will raise awareness of the dangers of putting a cigarette in your mouth."