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Cigarettes Linked to Late-Life Blindness

Researchers Find Smoking Raises Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Increasing Awareness

With this in mind, the U.K.'s Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) launched a public awareness campaign Wednesday to coincide with the publication of the studies by Kelly and colleagues.

"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," says RNIB official Steve Winyard in a news release.

Kelly says smokers who long ago stopped listening to familiar public health warnings about cigarettes and lung cancer or heart disease just may consider quitting when they learn they are at increased risk of going blind.

"In advertising it is well known that you have to vary the message to keep people's attention," he says. "If you don't, they will stop listening."

But Seattle ophthalmologist Richard Bensinger, MD, says he is less optimistic that adding blindness to the long list of smoking-related health concerns will affect behavior. This is especially true, he says, for younger smokers.

"My personal feeling is that if fear of cancer doesn't discourage people from smoking then the threat of blindness probably won't either," he tells WebMD. "If you tell a 30-year-old that they may go blind at age 75 or 80 I don't think it will have much impact."

Smoking-related cancer risk declines within just a few years of quitting, but the same may or may not be true for AMD and blindness, Bensinger says.

"We just don't have the data yet to say," he says. "This has not been studied for very long, so it will take time to figure this out."

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