Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

European scientists link smoking with damaged eyesight

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Cigarette packets should carry warnings that smoking causes blindness, doctors will argue this week as a new study shows that the habit can badly damage eyesight.

A European study is set to show the leading cause of blindness -- age-related macular degeneration -- is directly attributable to smoking in more than one in four cases. In addition, clouding of the eye lens occurs in smokers 10 to 15 years earlier than in non-smokers.

"There are many thousands of smokers who have no idea smoking can actually rob you of your sight," said Nick Astbury, president of the UK's Royal College of Ophthalmologists. "The chemicals affect blood vessels throughout the body, and one of the secondary effects is that they slowly damage the tissues of the eye."

For years, cigarette packets have carried health warnings linking cigarettes to heart disease, cancer and harm to unborn babies. Now eye specialists will call this week for cigarette packets to carry warnings about blindness.

A report, so far unpublished, on 5,000 patients across the EU -- the European Eye Study -- shows that 27 percent of them had eye disease directly attributable to smoking. Other studies show that passive smoking can lead to eye diseases.

Simon Kelly, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Bolton Hospitals NHS Trust in Greater Manchester, England, who has campaigned for awareness of the risks, carried out research last year in which he asked 400 patients about the links between illness and smoking.

Although 90 percent realized the habit could cause lung cancer, fewer than 10 percent knew smoking could cause blindness.

"The evidence is so strong now that smoking really does harm the eye," Kelly said. "In the case of macular degeneration, we know smokers have a twofold to threefold risk of developing the condition."

"But if they also have a genetic predisposition to the disease, that becomes an eightfold increased risk," Kelly said.

He called for a campaign aimed at younger people.

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