Smoking doubles the risk of the progressive and irreversible eye condition, macular degeneration, and may account for almost 30,000 cases in the UK, suggests research in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
The risk of macular degeneration increases with age and is the most common cause of blindness in the UK, affecting around 200,000 elderly people.
The findings are based on a representative sample of over 4,000 people, aged 75 and older, from 49 general practices across Britain.
The participants all underwent a series of detailed eye tests and were asked about their smoking habits, and if they had given up, how long ago. After taking into account other risk factors, such as alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease, the results showed that current smokers were twice as likely to be visually impaired as non-smokers.
Those who had kicked the habit more than 20 years previously were not at risk.
Based on the numbers of people in the UK who are blind or who are partially sighted as a result of macular degeneration, the authors calculated that smoking was likely to have caused up to 30,000 cases.
"An increased risk of [age related macular degeneration], which is the most commonly occurring cause of blindness in the United Kingdom, is yet another reason for people to stop smoking and governments to develop public health campaigns against this hazard," conclude the authors.
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