Blindness Risk of Smoking Overlooked

Smoking is linked to macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among the elderly, but few people realize the risk, experts say.

Reuters reported Feb. 6 that researchers believe that publicizing the risk of smoking-related blindness could discourage tobacco use among adults and teens; surveys have shown that teenagers are more afraid of going blind than they are about getting cancer.

British researchers surveyed 260 teens about their knowledge of smoking risks. About 30 percent knew that smoking was linked to heart disease, but only 5 percent knew that it also could cause blindness.

“We are calling for the message 'Smoking causes blindness' to go on cigarette packages. The message has been used in Australia on both cigarette packages and TV campaigns and it has been found to be highly effective,” said Simon Kelly, an ophthalmologist at Bolton Hospitals NHS Trust in England. “When patients are told smoking is damaging their eyes, in my experience, they are usually keen to quit smoking.”

The study was published online February 6, 2007 in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

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