Blindness from smoking terrifies teens, but few realize the two are linked

February 05, 2007

Teenagers fear blindness more than lung cancer or stroke, but nine out of 10 don't know that smoking can rob them of their sight in later life, reveals research published ahead of print in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The findings are based on the responses of 260 clubbers aged between 16 and 18, collected at four UK venues in Bournemouth, Winchester, Manchester and Southampton.

One in five of the young women were daily smokers (21%), compared with around one in seven (15%) of the young men.

The teens were asked if they knew about the link between smoking and certain diseases, such as stroke, lung cancer, heart disease, and blindness.

Deafness, which is not caused by smoking, was also included, in a bid to balance out the responses.

They were then asked to rank their fears of each disease.

Awareness that smoking caused lung cancer was high, with 81% of respondents recognising the causal link. But the teenagers were not so well informed about the other health consequences of smoking.

Just over one in four (27%) realised smoking was linked to heart disease, and only 15% realised that smoking could also lead to stroke.

Just 5% correctly identified that smoking can also cause blindness, mostly as a result of age related macular degeneration, or AMD for short.

The figure was even lower among those who smoked, just 2% of whom recognised the link.

But teens were far more frightened of losing their sight than of any other smoking related disease, giving it an average score of 4, compared with 3 for lung cancer, and 2 for heart disease and stroke.

Nine out of 10 of the teens said they would give up at the first signs of blindness, prompting the authors to suggest that public health messages about smoking which are aimed at teens, should include the risks of blindness.

While the prevalence of smoking has fallen in the UK, rates among teenagers are still high, warn the authors.
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BMJ Specialty Journals

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