Teenagers fear blindness more than lung cancer or stroke, according to research published online from the British Journal of Ophthalmology. But, nine out of 10 teens dont know that smoking can rob them of their sight in later life.

The research is based on the responses of 260 teenagers in the U.K. between the ages of 16 and 18. One in five of the teenage girls were daily smokers (21%), compared with around one in seven (15%) of the teenage boys.

The teens were asked if they knew about the link between smoking and certain diseases, such as stroke, lung cancer, heart disease and blindness. Deafness, which is not caused by smoking, was also included. They were then asked to rank their fears of each disease.

The majority of the teenagers, or 81%, realized that smoking caused lung cancer. But the teenagers were not so well informed about the other health consequences of smoking.

Just over one in four (27%) knew that smoking was linked to heart disease, and only 15% knew that smoking could also lead to stroke.

Just 5% correctly identified that smoking can also cause blindness, mostly as a result of age-related macular degeneration.

But teens were far more frightened of losing their sight than of any other smoking related disease, giving it an average score of 4 on a fear factor scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). The fear of getting lung cancer rated a 3, and heart disease and stroke received a 2.

Nine out of 10 of the teens said they would give up smoking at the first signs of blindess. "Eye-care practitioners, particularly [primary care] optometrists, should consider asking their adolescent patients whether they smoke and provide advice on quitting to smokers," the authors conclude.

Moradi P, Thornton J, Edwards R, et al. Teenagers perceptions of blindness related to smoking: a novel message to a vulnerable group. Br J Ophthalmol 2007 Feb 6; [Epub ahead of print]

Vol. No: 144:03Issue: 3/15/2007