The research also revealed that 42% of smokers questioned said that having been made aware of the associated link, they would now consider quitting smoking.
The charity has released the statistics to help raise awareness of the link between smoking and sight loss on national No Smoking Day today (11 March), and is warning people that smoking significantly increases the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The RNIB’s eye health manager, Clara Eaglen, said: “Many people are aware of the link between smoking and lung cancer and heart disease, but don’t realise that the habit can also lead to loss of sight. We’re fully behind national No Smoking Day and this year’s theme of ‘Proud to be a Quitter.’”
Organised annually by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), national No Smoking Day aims to help smokers who want to quit, and highlights the range of sources of help and advice which are available.
With reference to sight loss, the awareness day emphasises that by stopping smoking, smokers can reduce their chance of developing AMD.
It is estimated that smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD compared to non-smokers, with this risk also higher for those who live with smokers, clinical spokesman for Specsavers, Dr Nigel Best told OT. Once an individual has stopped smoking, the risk of developing AMD reduces gradually, and 20 years after stopping smoking the risk of AMD is the same as for an individual who has never smoked.
Dr Best, explained: “Smoking is the most significant modifiable risk factor for AMD.”
“And, for people with a genetic predisposition to developing AMD, smoking can increase the risk even more,” he added.
Smokers of 20 or more cigarettes per day are also found to have double the risk of developing cataracts compared to non-smokers. While stopping smoking reduces the risk of developing cataracts, even 20 years after stopping, it is still higher than in those who have never smoked.
The Macular Society has refreshed its anti-smoking campaign, Is it Real?, which is supported by the Prime Minister David Cameron, to coincide with No Smoking Day.
Initially launched in 2014, the initiative is aimed at 11–14 year olds and highlights the link between smoking and sight loss.
Relaunched today (11 March), the charity has released a series of videos from children highlighting the risks of sight loss which are linked to smoking. Having been circulated on Vivo Edge, an information sharing education platform, the videos are available to 653 secondary schools across the UK.
Commenting on the campaign, chief executive of the Macular Society, Cathy Yelf, said: “Our mission is to beat the biggest cause of blindness in this country and a vital part of this is education about the risk factors of AMD.”
She added: “Research suggests that to young people, the risk of having to live many years with sight loss can be as much of a deterrent as the risk of a fatal disease.”
On No Smoking Day, Vision Express is highlighting a report published last year which revealed the NHS districts in the UK with the highest prevalence of heavy smoking.
The report, which was jointly commissioned by National Eye Health Week and the multiple, revealed that the areas with the highest smoking rates were the London Borough of Newham, Knowsley in Merseyside, Cwm Taf (South Wales), South Tyneside, North Manchester and Hull.
The research also reiterated how low smokers’ awareness of the link between blindness and smoking is (9.7%) when compared to awareness of lung cancer (92.2%) and heart disease (87.7%)
Head of professional services at Vision Express, Omar Hassan, explained: “When people think of smoking the most commonly-associated health problem is cancer, but smoking can also cause devastating sight issues.”
He added: “The College of Optometrists reports that 86% of adults value sight more than any other sense, yet almost two million people are living with sight loss and 50% of this is preventable. We hope No Smoking Day will give an impetus for the public to reconsider their habit.”