If there weren’t already compelling enough reasons for you to quit smoking, think about the risk to your vision.
While it’s well-known smoking can cause cancer, heart disease and strokes, up until recently there has been little awareness about the fact smoking can also cause serious and permanent vision loss.
For a long time, I personally bemoaned the fact Canada had no requirements that cigarette packaging carry a warning about smoking and blindness. Cigarette packaging in other countries — such as Australia, for example — have carried the message "smoking causes blindness" for some time.
But soon my wish will be granted. New regulations for tobacco-product labelling in Canada mean that, as of June 19, retailers can only legally sell cigarettes that display new health warnings, including the fact that smoking increases your risk of blindness.
Specifically, the warning points to the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of vision loss in Canadians 50 years and older.
AMD causes damage to the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for seeing fine details (such as reading print or seeing faces). People with AMD generally experience blurred central vision and a growing central blind spot.
We’ve known for some time primary and second-hand smoke from cigarettes is a major risk factor for AMD. Current smokers have up to four times the risk of developing AMD compared to non-smokers or past smokers. Smokers may also develop the disease about 10 years earlier than non-smokers. How much you smoke also affects your risk of acquiring AMD. People who smoke more have a higher risk of developing AMD than those who smoke less.
The good news? Quitting can make a difference. Studies indicate a person’s risk for AMD will decrease each year they don’t smoke, so after 20 years, the risk is equal to that of someone who has never smoked.
In addition to AMD, smoking is a risk factor for developing cataracts and vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.
I sincerely hope those people who are still smoking will heed the new warnings about the risk of vision loss. They need to know living with vision loss can be life-altering. Clinical depression is three times as common in people with vision loss compared to the general population. And seniors with vision loss face twice the risk of falls and four times for hip fractures.
So, if the well-known risks associated with smoking aren’t enough to make you quit, think about the implications of losing your sight.