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Don’t be ‘Blind’ to Smoking Dangers - Saudi Arabia
Date : 23 February 2011

The number of smokers in Saudi Arabia has amplified to a big sum of six million, of which 600,000 are women. There are also 772,000 teenage smokers, including students. Many smokers may be unaware of this phenomenon but it is true: smoking causes blindness. The generic form of blindness caused by smoking is "age-related macular degeneration." Smoking is also a cause of cataract, amongst many other life-threatening diseases. Every 6.5 seconds, a current or former smoker dies, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In Saudi Arabia, 22,000 Saudis die of smoking related diseases every year, according to the Anti-Smoking Society.


Retina is the surface at the back of an eye, which grants vision for daily activities and the ability of recognition. Smoking can cause the layer between the retina and blood vessels to wear away, resulting in reduced circulation, and scarring. Macula is the most sensitive part of the retina. Chemicals from tobacco filled cigarette smoke can eliminate cells within the macula or cause minute blood vessels to explode. Both cases can lead to loss of vision. For smokers’ information, the risk of blindness by macular degeneration can be reduced if it is diagnosed at an early stage and if laser surgery can facilitate the matter. However, there is a 50 percent chance that this condition may return, especially if the person continues to smoke. Though the damage done already will remain, the key is to avoid getting back into the habit of smoking because that will decrease the chances of the condition returning.

What is AMD?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease distressing the macula that can cause permanent loss of fundamental vision. It is age-related because it affects people mostly above 50; hence, chances of catching AMD grow with age. There is currently no cure for AMD but tobacco consumption is the invariable factor that can prevent the risk of attaining an AMD.

Studies suggest "current smokers have four times the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration than past smokers or non-smokers. Smokers may also develop the disease about 10 years earlier than non-smokers." Non-smokers exposed to passive smoking are also in the sphere of AMD danger.

Hence the number of cigarettes smoked is directly proportional to the years you smoke causing blindness or cataract. It is expected that smoking donates 20 percent of blindness in people over 50 years old age bracket. It is estimated that up to 70,000 smokers in New Zealand may be suffering from AMD.

Smoking Defects

Smoking exposes the body to free radicals that cause cellular damage and can restrict circulation of nutrients to the retina and lens. Furthermore, Carotenoid levels and vitamin C blood concentrations are significantly reduced. Smoking oxidizes cholesterol, causing fat to build up in the arteries, which can lead to harmful impacts on the heart, causing strokes and probable macular degeneration.

A cataract is the clouding of the eye's lens. It is in the crystalline lens of the eye, varying in degree from slight to complete opacity and obstructing the passage of light. "What makes us suspect this is the consistency of studies all over the world," says Robert Sperduto, M.D., chief, epidemiology branch of the National Eye Institute.

Hypoxia is a condition of oxygen deficiency in the body that can cause malfunctions. The inability of tissues to use oxygen causes hypoxia. Cigarette smoke can also cause hypoxia, degrading eye vision, especially at night.

Access Economics for the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) reported that blindness and cancer are the two most feared health conditions people wanted to prevent, in a survey. The three key risk factors for the diseases 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.

"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 percent said that they would quit at the first sign of a problem.

Social Impacts on Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the fourth largest importer of cigarettes in the world. Thousands of workers die annually due to passive smoking from colleagues. According to statistics published by the Saudi Charitable Society to Combat Smoking on its website, cigarette smoking was the main reason behind the death of 13,544 people in Saudi Arabia in 2008.

Dr. Ashraf Abdul Gayoom Amir, a consultant, said the number of smokers was likely to increase to 10 million due to lack of proper education and counseling about the bad effects of cigarette smoking.

With the negative impact of AMD and smoking, invariable is the prevalent risk of depression and suicide. Lives lost due to smoking are enough of a justification.


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