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19-05-2011 | General practice | Article

Few aware of the eye-related risks of smoking

Abstract

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MedWire News: Few individuals from Canada, the USA, and UK are aware that smoking causes blindness, survey findings show.

Australians, on the other hand, are more aware of the risks of smoking on eye health.

"Most smokers in this survey were aware of some negative health outcomes from smoking," write Ryan David Kennedy (University of Waterloo, Canada) and colleagues, "but few respondents understood that smoking is a risk for non-life-threatening health effects, such as 'blindness.'"

The report, published in Optometry, identifies a potential for public health officials to educate individuals about these risks.

Smoking has been linked previously with various visually impairing eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. The authors note that individuals respond to these risks because they are afraid of "going blind."

As a result, they "may be motivated to quit smoking if they know that vision loss is associated with smoking behavior," Kennedy and team says.

They randomly called adult smokers in Canada, the USA, UK, and Australia and asked them questions to identify the participants health knowledge related to smoking risk. Approximately 2700 participants from each country responded to the telephone interview.

Just 13% of smokers from Canada, 9.5% from the USA, and 9.7% of UK respondents were aware that smoking can cause blindness. In Australia, 47.2% of individuals were aware of the risk of smoking on eye health.

The most likely explanation for the knowledge gap are the number of Australian public health and social marketing campaigns, which started in 1998, that highlight the link between smoking and blindness.

Although better than in other countries, the researchers note that more than half of Australians are still unaware of the full risks of smoking, despite the decade-long effort of the national tobacco advertising campaigns.

"[S]mokers have not been adequately educated about some of the health implications of smoking, specifically that smoking causes blindness, except in part where governments have taken proactive steps to inform them," write the authors.

Public health campaigns linking smoking with blindness are effective at getting people to seek smoking cessation support, they add.

MedWire (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By MedWire Reporters

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