Despite the clear connection, only one in five people recognises that smoking can lead to blindness, with smokers being twice as likely to lose their sight compared with non-smokers.
Sputnik spoke to Henry Leonard, Head of Clinical and Regulatory at The Association of Optometrists, in this report.
Sputnik: Can you tell us a bit more about this research and just how significant it is to the British population?
Henry Leonard: Well, we all know smoking is bad for our health but what most people don't realize is how bad smoking can be for eyesight. Smokers are actually twice as likely to lose their eyesight and up to four times more likely to develop macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of sight loss in the UK. Our recent research shows almost all optometrists are seeing patients every month with eye diseases linked to smoking, but fewer than one in five members of the general public or even aware of the risks. So the Association of Optometrists stub it out campaign, it's all about raising awareness of the link between smoking and sight loss. We know most smokers want to quit and so we hope this message just gives them that last little push to stop.
Sputnik: Only one in five people recognize that smoking can lead to blindness. That's an astonishing number of people who are essentially unaware of the potential dangers of smoking and how it affects the vision. So on the back of this, Henry, what effect will this new study have on future health planning in the UK?
Henry Leonard: We hope that by making people more aware of this issue, I mean, it'll just help them to make that decision to stop smoking because that's the only way that really gives you that protection. Another misconception is that people who spoke for many years may feel that there's no point stopping because they've been smoking for so long. But actually, studies have shown that once you stop smoking, if you stay smoke-free for around five years, your risk of developing these problems and having these risks goes down to almost the same as someone who's never smoked at all. So it's never too late to stop.
Sputnik: If we look at us today, we've seen more people quitting smoking and using tobacco products than ever before. What effect will this study have on the national consciousness, if you will, on deterring people to smoke and what methods would you recommend?
Henry Leonard: There's really good understanding about the risks of smoking and heart disease and smoking and lung disease but the risks of smoking and eyesight loss are really not very well known. So by bringing this to people's attention, making them aware of this loss, we hope that that will really get the message out there. It's not just about your own eyes as a smoker; it's also about people around you. Secondhand smoke is almost as harmful as smoking yourself and particularly when it comes to children because we know that children or parents who smoke are two to three times more likely to smoke themselves as adults. So it's really important to get the parents get that message that it's not just damaging their eyes. It could be damaging their children's eyes as well for the future. We've got some resources our own website which is www.aop.org.uk/stubitout and there’s also useful resources helping people to quit smoking at www.nhs.uk/smokefree
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Henry Leonard and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.