Millions of smokers in the UK are putting themselves at increased risk of blindness or sight impairment by continuing with the habit, according to a poll for the Association of Optometrists (AOP).

Smokers are twice as likely to lose their vision compared to a non-smoker, yet the link between smoking and sight-threatening conditions is not always recognised. In fact, only a fifth of smokers realises that smoking can cause blindness or sight impairment.

All (96%) optometrists surveyed in the poll said that they examine a patient every month who has an eye disease that they believe is the result of smoking. 

Despite this concern among experts, only a fifth (18%) of the general population recognises the connection between blindness and smoking. 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.

Smokers would see an improvement in their eye health if they quit

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 degeneration – the leading cause of sight loss in the UK and twice as likely to develop conditions which can lead to glaucoma and cataracts. 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.

Adult smoking habits in the UK

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