Optometrists warn millions putting their sight at risk by continuing to smoke

Latest findings from the AOP's Voice of Optometry insight panel

  • Majority of optometrists examine a patient with eye disease linked to smoking every month  
  • While most of the public identify cancer as a health risk of smoking, only a fifth link the habit to blindness or sight impairment 
  • Just a quarter of the public are aware that quitting smoking will improve poor eye health
  • Association of Optometrists (AOP) advises not smoking as number one tip for protecting eye health   

Most people know smoking is bad for your health but while most would cite heart disease and cancer as risks, few know that blindness and sight impairment are very real consequences of the habit.

Today, optometrists from the AOP warn that millions of smokers in the UK are putting themselves at increased risk of blindness or sight impairment by continuing with the habit. This comes as almost all (96%) optometrists surveyed say they examine a patient every month who has eye disease that they believe is the result of smoking1

Despite this concern among experts, only a fifth (18%) of the general population recognise the connection between blindness and smoking2. This is compared to 76% who link cancer and smoking; 66% who link it with heart disease and 64% who recognise the connection between bronchitis and smoking.

It’s feared that those putting their sight at risk through smoking is also a much larger issue, as one in five (21%) of the public admitted they had not had a sight test in the last two years – with almost half (40%) explaining they did not feel the need to go because their vision seemed fine.

The AOP is reminding people that it’s never too late to benefit from stopping smoking, despite over half of the UK public surveyed (51%) saying they aren’t sure whether long-term smokers would see an improvement in their eye health if they quit. An additional 11% believe there would be no improvement as the damage has already been done.  

Optometrist and AOP Head of Clinical and Regulatory, Henry Leonard said: “Smokers are up to four times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration3 – the leading cause of sight loss in the UK and twice as likely to develop conditions which can lead to glaucoma and cataracts4. There are of course numerous health reasons to stop smoking but we hope that highlighting these additional risks will give many smokers who are considering quitting, that last little push.

“Whether you are a smoker or not, it’s important to visit your optometrist regularly to have a full eye health check – so any conditions can be identified and treated early.”

The AOP is launching its national Stub it out campaign on 2 July. An outdoor advertising campaign will be rolled out in areas that have some of the highest levels of smoking in the UK including London, Glasgow and Manchester.


You can download hi-res images related to the campaign via Dropbox.

For national and regional media enquiries, please telephone Rick Panesar on 020 7458 4500 or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors

Association of Optometrists

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is the leading representative membership organisation for optometrists in the UK. We support over 80% of practising optometrists, to fulfil their professional roles to protect the nation’s eye health. For more information, visit

Visit the AOP website for more information on the Stub it out campaign.

Adult smoking habits in the UK

According to latest figures from the Office of National Statistics there are 7.4 million people in UK who smoke and over half (61%) of them say they want to quit.

Regional breakdown

Top 15 local authorities with the highest proportion of current, adult smokers (18 years+):

Local authority Percentage
Redditch 24.8%
Thanet 23.7%
Kingston upon Hull 23.1%
Glasgow city 22.8%
Sunderland 22.7%
Forest Heath 22.5%
Blackpool  22.3%
Merthyl Tydfil 22.3%
Hastings 22.2%
Manchester 22%
Northampton 21.5%
Castle point 21.5%
Hackney 21.4%
Havant 21.4%
Gloucester 21.3%

1  The Voice of Optometry panel was set up and launched in 2017 by the AOP and conducted by Alpha Research. 1063 practising optometrists completed the online survey between 12 February and 22 March 2019.  
2  Research surveying 2006 UK adults conducted by Opinium between 14 – 17 June 2019
3  Kelly SP, Thornton J, Lyratzopoulos G et al. Smoking and blindness. BMJ 2004; 328:537-8
4  Lin et al, 2010, Cigarette Smoking as a Risk Factor for Uveitis, American Academy of Ophthalmology