Smokers twice as likely to lose their sight - calls for warnings on cigarette packets

Experts are warning smokers that they are twice as likely as non-smokers to lose their sight in later life.

The say the link between age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and smoking is now as solid as that between smoking and lung cancer.

Apparently many smokers are still unaware that their habit could cost them their sight, and AMD Alliance UK and the Royal National Institute of the Blind are urging that specific warnings be placed on cigarette packets.

Steve Winyard, RNIB's head of campaigns, and chairman of AMD Alliance UK, says they also want the government to fund an awareness campaign to alert people to the dangers of smoking, as well as the introduction of a complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public places across the UK.

AMD usually develops after a person reaches 50 years and affects the central part of the retina of the eye.

It is the UK's leading cause of sight loss.

Smoking is the only proven cause of AMD that people can do anything about, and there are around 500,000 people in the UK with AMD.

Of those, an estimated 54,000 people have the condition as a result of smoking.

However a report by AMD Alliance UK, based on a survey of 1,023 UK adults, has revealed that only 7% of people know that AMD affects the eyes.

But apparently seven out of 10 smokers would either stop smoking permanently or cut down if they thought it might harm their eyesight.

Previous studies have shown that people who stopped smoking 20 years ago have a similar risk of developing AMD as non-smokers do, and the risk starts to decrease after 10 years of not smoking.

Winyard says smoking is the only proven cause of AMD that people can do anything about, yet people are not aware of the link and most people have not even heard of the condition.

He says the message is simple, don't smoke and if you do - stop.

Regular eye tests to check eyes are healthy can save people's sight.

Nick Astbury, president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, says the statistics are 'chilling' but it is never too late to give up.

According to a spokeswoman from the Department of Health, for people to change their behaviour the facts about smoking need to be communicated, and support provided to help people quit.

At present she said there were campaigns to raise the awareness of the health dangers of smoking and passive smoking, but the public were less supportive of measures to make all bars and pubs smoke free.

The Department of Health is apparently intending to clamp down on tobacco advertising, but that warnings on cigarette packets are determined by the European Commission.

The British Medical Association has also said it supports the call for AMD warnings on cigarette packs.

It seems there are two types of AMD, wet and dry; 90% of cases are dry AMD, which cannot be treated, while the remaining 10% are wet AMD, for which treatment is available.

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