Students blind to smoking risk

Chief executive of Macular Society calls on teachers to raise awareness of the link between smoking and loss of sight

Tony Rucinski, the chief executive the Macular Society and himself blind, is appealing to teachers to help get the message across to children that smoking causes sight loss.His views underpin a new resource pack being launched by the Macular Society, to help teachers explain the link between smoking and blindness.

According to the Society, most of the 600 UK youngsters who start smoking every day don’t know that tobacco could eventually cost them their sight. A survey of 10-year-olds found that 98% did not know that smoking causes blindness, but feared sight loss more than any other major consequence of smoking.

Research suggests smokers are up to four times more likely to get macular degeneration compared with non-smokers. Smokers with certain genes may be 20 times more likely to get it. The combination of smoking and genetics may account for as much as a third of all macular degeneration.

The resource packs for educators are part of Is it Real? – a viral video campaign to raise awareness of this issue. Liaising with teachers, in order to effectively deliver the message of smoking causing blindness, is key to the campaign. Resources could be used in subjects including art, science and PSHE.

The campaign uses a series of three videos overall, which are designed to be shared on social network sites. A questionnaire on attitudes to smoking will also be included in the campaign, which at least 20,000 children are expected to complete.

Consultant ophthalmologist, Phillip Moradi, from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, conducted the survey and will analyse the new data.

He said: ‘We need to have better information on which health messages will work with children. At the moment 600 children in the UK start smoking every day. That represents a devastating effect on the health of these young people later in their lives.”

The Society is criticising the slow progress in implementing EU directive to put sight loss warnings on cigarette packets, which was first agreed in 2012, and believes current smoking advice ignores the link with blindness.

Tony Rucinski commented: ‘We are failing children if we don’t tell them about the full dangers of smoking. The fact is that macular degeneration is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK.

“Children are, rightly, concerned about the prospect of living with sight loss but adults seem to overlook this when planning anti-smoking campaigns.We recognise that teachers play a vital role in presenting effective health messages to children.”

www.is-it-real.org.