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    Cigarette warnings welcomed

    Packs to warn that smoking causes blindness.

    image shows graphic of two hands. One hand is offering cigarettes, the other is refusing.

    Smoking the only modifiable risk factor for macular degeneration

    The Macular Degeneration Foundation today welcomed the introduction of the next set of warnings to be printed on tobacco products across Australia.

    Macular degeneration (MD), commonly called AMD (age-related macular degeneration), is Australia’s leading cause of blindness, causing loss of central vision. It affects 1 in 7 people over the age of 50 and the incidence increases dramatically in the last decades of life. It is responsible for 48% of severe vision loss.

    Of the seven new messages printed on tobacco products, ‘smoking causes blindness’ is one of the most vital as smoking greatly increases the chances of developing macular degeneration (MD) by a factor of three.

    Research undertaken by Access Economics for the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) concluded that blindness and cancer are the two most feared health conditions people want to prevent.

    The three key risk factors for the disease are age, smoking and a family history. Those over the age of 50 are more at risk and the number of older people affected is likely to increase as the Australian population ages.

    “Smoking is the only modifiable risk factor of macular degeneration,” said CEO of the MD Foundation, Ms Julie Heraghty. “You can’t change your family, you can’t change your age, but you can stop smoking.”

    A recent study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology showed that most teenagers did not know that smoking could cause blindness through macular degeneration. When told, 90% said that they would quit at the first sign of a problem.

    “Unfortunately, to stop smoking at the first sign of a problem could be far too late,” said Ms Heraghty.

    Impact of macular degeneration

    Economic impacts

    • AMD costs Australia $2.6 billion a year
    • AMD will cost the Australian community $59 billion over the next 20 years

    Social impacts

    • AMD and visual impairment can prevent healthy and independent ageing
    • There are well established correlations between visual impairment and a higher risk of falls, hip fractures and depression in those with AMD

    Emotional impacts

    • The impact of vision loss due to AMD on a patient’s quality of life and psychological well-being is comparable to that of cancer or coronary heart disease
    • AMD increases the risk of depression and suicide
    • People with vision loss are three times more likely to experience depression compared to the general population
    • Further studies showed that the inclusion of low vision care services helps to reduce the negative impact of the AMD diagnosis.

    Posted: 1 March 2007

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