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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 07:14 GMT
Young smokers 'risking' blindness
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of a hand holding a burning cigarette
The fear of blindness is the strongest deterrent
One of the UK's leading charities says young people should be more aware of the link between smoking and going blind.

The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) wants the government to fund a national advertising campaign.

It points to research in a medical journal which indicates that young people find the fear of blindness to be an effective deterrent.

Young clubbers were more afraid of sight loss than any other side effect.

The British Journal of Ophthalmology interviewed more than 250 clubbers aged between 16 and 18 in Bournemouth, Winchester, Manchester and Southampton.

Asked to rate their fear of lung cancer, most scored it 3 out of 5, stroke 2 out of 5 but sight loss rated 4 out of 5.

Nine out of ten of those interviewed said they would give up smoking at the first sign of a problem with their sight.

Although more than 20% of young women and 15% of young males were smokers, only 2% of smokers knew that smoking increased the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the most common cause of sight loss in the UK.

People who smoke double the risk of developing the condition - according to the RNIB - but those with a genetic link to AMD could be multiplying the risk by as much as a hundred times.

"The problem with anti-smoking campaigns targeted at teenagers is that they feel they're invincible," said RNIB campaigns manager, Barbara McLaughlan.

Research evidence from Australia and New Zealand suggests that advertising is effective in highlighting the link among older adults.

"It really is important that the link between smoking and blindness becomes common knowledge," said Ms McLaughlan.

The co-author of the study, consultant ophthalmologist, Simon Kelly, said that while most young people were unaware of the risks, the fear of going blind was a compelling reason to quit.

"We have brought this information to the attention of the Department of Health and we hope they will take this forward as it is vital that smoking rates in young people fall," he said.

The Department of Health has described the research as "an interesting piece of work".

"Young people do need messages around smoking that are targeted at their main concerns," a spokesperson said.

This is the reason that recent campaigns have drawn attention to the effect smoking has on attractiveness, complexion, and - in men - sexual performance.

The link between smoking and AMD was established conclusively in 2005.

The RNIB is at the forefront of a European campaign to include warnings about sight loss on tobacco products.


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