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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Eye warning call for cigarettes
Smoking is linked to many conditions
Experts are calling for cigarette packets to carry a warning that smoking can cause blindness.

The move comes as new evidence suggests smoking - and passive smoking - can cause age-related macular degeneration - the UK's leading cause of blindness.

The, as yet, unpublished European Eye Study of 5,000 AMD patients in the EU found 27% had disease that was directly attributable to smoking.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists said urgent action was needed.

It is time that smokers understand that they at least double their risk of going blind
Mr Nick Astbury

It called for the government to add a 'Smoking causes blindness' warning to others currently carried on cigarette packets, which include 'Smoking kills' and 'Smoking may cause impotence'.

The move is backed by the AMD Alliance and the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects 500,000 people in the UK.

It is marked by a progressive loss of central vision due to degeneration of the macula - a region of the retina responsible for fine, central vision.

Distressing condition

Mr Nick Astbury, president of the College said: "Blindness is one of the most distressing health conditions possible - the prospect of losing one's sight - and putting the sight of family members at risk - purely because of a smoking habit, is a compelling reason for tobacco users to quit.

The warning campaigners would like to see

"The scientific evidence for the link between smoking and blindness is now similar to the evidence linking smoking and lung disease.

"It is time that smokers understand that they at least double their risk of going blind through age-related macular degeneration."

Tom Brembridge, of the Macular Disease Society, said other research had suggested a link between smoking and AMD.

He said: "I am in favour of pointing out to people that their eyes are made vulnerable by smoking."

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists annual congress in Manchester heard how sight loss was difficult for many to bear.

Dr Peter Elton, of Bury Primary Care Trust, revealed the results of a survey of more than 4,000 residents of the town which found that people with visual impairment were twice as likely to suffer from depression than people with good eyesight.

The conference also heard that both ophthalmologists and optometrists could could improve the advice they give to patients about giving up smoking.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was important to raise awareness of the effect smoking could have on sight, but said warnings on cigarettes packets were determined by the European Commission.

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