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Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet about 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes — a bit under 1 in every 5 adults. As of 2012, there were also 13.4 million cigar smokers in the US, and 2.3 million who smoke tobacco in pipes — other dangerous and addictive forms of tobacco.
Cigarette smoke is extremely toxic, containing as many as 4,000 active compounds, including tar, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and heavy metals. Its effects on the lungs and heart have been well established by medical researchers and are well known.
Not as well known are the detrimental effects that smoking can have on your vision. Smoking has been directly linked to two of the leading causes of vision loss, cataracts and macular degeneration. In fact, researchers believe smoking also causes or contributes to a number of other eye health problems.
Research has found that smokers have double the risk of developing cataracts compared with non-smokers. This risk is triple for heavy smokers. In fact, doctors have discovered a specific relationship between cataracts and the amount that you smoke — the more you smoke, the more chance you have of developing cataracts. Doctors believe smoking contributes to cataracts by altering the cells of the lens through oxidation. There is also evidence that smoking leads to the accumulation of heavy metals like cadmium in the lens.
Smoking also increases a person's risk of developing macular degeneration. Studies have found that smokers face a risk of developing macular degeneration that is two to four times greater than that of people who have never smoked. As with cataracts, doctors have found that the risk increases the more a person has smoked. Researchers have also found an increased risk of macular degeneration in people who don't smoke but are frequently exposed to environmental cigarette smoke. Doctors believe that smoking promotes macular degeneration by interfering with blood flow to the retina. Smoking might also increase the deleterious effects of oxidation on the cells of the macula.
Studies also have linked cigarette smoking to eye problems such as:
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Dry eyes
- Optic nerve damage
- Lazy eye
Vision Problems and Smoking: What You Can Do
There is hope for smokers who want to avoid smoking-related vision loss. Research has found that quitting smoking does improve their chances of avoiding eye disease. For example, studies show that people who quit smoking will have a 6.7 percent reduced risk of developing macular degeneration after one year. After five years, the risk drops by another 5 percent. The same goes for cataracts. Doctors say people who have quit smoking for 25 years have a 20 percent lower risk of cataracts when compared with current smokers.
Ready to quit smoking?
Make a Quit Plan. The VA has resources available to make sure you succeed. The first step is to S.T.A.R.T.
Set a quit date.
Tell your family and freinds.
Anticipate and plan for challenges.
Remove cigarettes from your home, car and work.
Talk to your doctor.
Your doctor can counsel you and prescribe medication to help you. Counseling and medication are tools that give you the best chance of quitting smoking for good.
Counseling will help you build smoke-free habits. Once you quit, it continues to help you avoid tobacco for good. Medication such as nicotine replacement therapy and other medications will ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Counseling and medication work together to help you cope with cravings and deal with triggers.
Counseling and medication have higher success rates compared to counseling alone. Together, the number of counseling sessions (up to 8) increases your success. 32.5% of people successfully quit using medication together with 8 or more counseling sessions compared to only 12.4% who quit without any help.
The VA can help you with your quit plan.
Counseling: Talk to your doctor. Attend a tobacco cessation group. Call 1-855-QUIT-VET.
Medications: Talk to your doctor about using the patch, gum, lozenge & other meds to help you quit.
Self Help: CLICK HERE to find other tips for quitting and VA resources
Support: Talk to your family and friends. Text the word VET to 47848 for tips and help quitting.
VA TeleQuit Smoking Cessation Program
TeleQuit is the VA’s smoking cessation program that is coordinated by telephone. Telephone-based care means no in-person clinic visits for patients. Since its launch in 2007, TeleQuit has managed the smoking cessation care of over 8,000 Veterans and a growing number of VA employees throughout Northern California and Western Nevada.
The TeleQuit Program offers education, counseling, and smoking cessation medication. Free, confidential, one-on-one telephone counseling is provided by the California Smokers' Helpline and Nevada Tobacco Users' Helpline. Veterans and VA employees receive brochures with great ideas about how to quit smoking.
How to contact the TeleQuit Program:
Veterans and VA employees can call us at our toll-free number: 1-650-493-5000, ext. 60557 (Palo Alto Division). Coordinators are available to take calls Monday-Friday, 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM. Veterans and VA employees may call us after 4:30 PM and leave a message on our voice mail.
What is the long-term abstinence rate with TeleQuit?
TeleQuit's 6-month abstinence rate is 25%. This outcome is comparable to quit rates in an excellent in-person smoking cessation clinic.
Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do to improve your health. You have the power to quit smoking and to stay smoke free, and the VA has resources available to help.