Smoking and Blindness: Do Blind People Smoke More, and Does Smoking Cause Blindness?

The link between smoking and blindness is one of many reasons we should encourage as many people to quit as possible. Firstly, smoking can lead to blindness, and secondly, blind people are actually more likely to smoke than fully-sighted people. Breaking this link should be a priority.

Smoking damages your lungs, harms your heart and causes cancer almost everywhere in your body, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it isn’t good for your eyes either. However, while most people know that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease, far fewer know that smoking also causes vision loss, through age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and other issues. The link between smoking and blindness goes in both directions, too, with blind people being more likely to smoke than fully-sighted people.

Are Blind People More Likely to Smoke? Smoking Rates Among the Visually-Impaired

Although there aren’t many studies that look at smoking rates among blind people, the evidence we do have suggests that blind people are more likely to smoke than fully-sighted people. A study conducted on adults in Massachusetts looked at smoking rates among various groups of people with disabilities, including orthopedic, emotional or sensory disabilities, and disabilities related to chronic conditions.

While only around 20 % of people without a disability smoked, 25.6 % of people with a disability were current smokers, and around 23 % of those with a sensory disability were. Although sensory disability isn’t limited to blind people (deaf people, for instance, are also included), this is a strong indication that people with impaired vision are more likely to smoke than the general population. However, the link between blindness and smoking isn’t as strong as the link with other disabilities.

Why Blind People Shouldn’t Smoke

Blind people shouldn’t smoke for the same reasons anybody else shouldn’t smoke. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., and is responsible for 90 % of all lung cancer deaths, 80 % of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a substantial number of deaths related to cardiovascular disease. These conditions are just as likely to affect blind people as sighted people, so these are all compelling reasons to try to quit if you’re a blind smoker.

However, there is an additional issue for blind smokers in that these and other smoking-related conditions can make day-to-day life much more challenging. For people already struggling with a sensory disability, the additional challenges imposed by smoking-related diseases can make maintaining your ordinary lifestyle impossible without assistance. This is yet another reason that smoking and blindness are a bad mix.

Does Smoking Cause Blindness? Smoking, Macular Degeneration and Cataracts

While smoking rates are higher in blind people and the consequences of smoking-related health conditions are likely to be more severe in the visually-impaired, there is more to the link between smoking and blindness than this. Although many smokers aren’t aware of the risks, smoking can also lead to vision loss.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can lead to blindness, and is characterized by issues with the macula, which is the part of the eye’s retina responsible for the center of your field of vision. If you have macular degeneration, you’ll experience blurred or otherwise distorted vision in the middle of your field of view. This makes it incredibly difficult to engage in activities such as reading, watching TV or driving, as well as many others. Smokers are about twice as likely to develop AMD compared to non-smokers.

Cataracts are another visual problem closely linked to smoking that can lead to blindness. This is when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, which is common in elderly people whether they smoke or not. However, if you do smoke, your odds of developing cataracts are two to three times as high as a non-smokers’.

Increasing Awareness of the Risks and Promoting Quitting Smoking Among Blind People

Many smokers are unaware of the risks smoking poses to their vision, and increasing awareness of these risks is a major priority for public health. However, the best thing we can do to help reduce the impact of the link between smoking and blindness is to encourage more people to quit smoking, whether they’re blind or not.

For people with visual impairments, focusing on the additional restrictions posed by smoking-related illnesses and the possibility of worsening vision will help to drive home the key points. For people without such impairments, increasing their knowledge of how smoking affects the risks of conditions like AMD, as well as the multitude of other health problems caused by smoking, provides ample motivation for making a change.

Successfully quitting means taking advantage of the quitting aids available, including medications like Chantix, nicotine replacement therapies, behavioral counseling and alternative nicotine products like snus and e-cigarettes. Smokers should be encouraged to use whichever of these approaches appeals to them, as long as they make an attempt to stop smoking.

It might not be an easy road, but the benefits of travelling it are huge.