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The New Smoking Story: Going Blind

A Tip from a Former SmokerA leading cause of vision loss is now clearly linked to smoking. And a woman fighting to save her eyesight tells her story in CDC's new ads—with the hope of inspiring smokers to quit now.

Losing your eyesight joins a long list of illnesses that are linked to smoking—but it comes as a surprise to many smokers. Marlene certainly never imagined that smoking could lead to a serious eye disease or even blindness when she started smoking in high school. She's one of the real people in CDC's Tips From Former Smokers (Tips) national tobacco education campaign. New, hard-hitting ads appear across the United States starting March 30, 2015. The ads urge smokers to quit and to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) if they want free help.

Smoking causes immediate and long-term damage to the body, including heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer. In 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General's report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, confirmed that macular degeneration, Marlene's eye disease, can be caused by smoking. Marlene is one of five people from across the country featured in the newest Tips campaign.

These former smokers hope that their personal struggles will inspire smokers to quit.

Smoking, Vision Loss, and Blindness

Smoking is bad for your eyes, just like it is for the rest of your body. Two of the greatest threats to a smoker's eyesight are macular degeneration and cataracts.

Macular degeneration, which also is called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), destroys the central vision that you need to read, drive, and see people's faces—and it can leave you legally blind. Currently, there is no cure for macular degeneration.

Cataracts cause blurry vision that worsens over time. Without surgery, they can cause serious vision loss.

If you smoke:

  • You are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration compared with a nonsmoker.
  • You are two to three times more likely to develop cataracts compared with a nonsmoker.

Marlene first noticed vision problems at age 56. She had trouble reading; accidentally cut herself in the kitchen; and would fall, even when walking down only a few steps. Her doctor told her to quit smoking if she wanted to keep even a small portion of her eyesight. She needs shots in one or both eyes every month to avoid even more vision loss, which could leave her legally blind. According to Marlene, "Nothing at all—food, drink, cigarettes, nothing—is worth going through what I'm going through."

The best way to protect your sight from damage linked to smoking is to quit or never start smoking. AMD often has no early symptoms, so a full, dilated eye exam is the best way to spot this eye disease early.

Smoking and Colorectal Cancer

The 2014 U.S. Surgeon General's report linked colon cancer and rectal cancer (colorectal cancer) to smoking. Colorectal cancer causes the second largest number of cancer deaths every year, just behind lung cancer. It's important for all adults to talk with their health care provider about screening tests that can find signs of colorectal cancer early.

Julia, a smoker, was 49 when she nearly died of colon cancer. She developed cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Then one day, the pain and bloating got much, much worse. When a colon exam showed that her intestines were completely blocked, she had surgery the next day. The exam, a colonoscopy, uses a narrow tube and a tiny camera. That exam helped save her life. Today, Julia says her life is so much better without cigarettes, especially her strong voice in her church choir.

Mark was 42, a father, and a military veteran when he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. He started smoking as a teen and continued to use cigarettes or smokeless tobacco—and sometimes both—through two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf. Mark had surgery and chemotherapy. He also needed an ostomy bag taped to a hole in his abdomen to collect waste for about 6 months. He quit smoking soon after his cancer diagnosis because he wanted to do everything within his power to get well.

Quitting smoking reduces your risk for many types of cancer. For people with cancer, quitting improves the outlook for the future (your prognosis).

"I Wanted to Be Here for My Daughter"

When Tiffany was 16, her mother—a cigarette smoker—died of lung cancer. Despite her loss, Tiffany started smoking 3 years later. And like many smokers who have seen a family member harmed by smoking, she put the health risks out of her mind and just kept smoking. When Tiffany’s own daughter became a teen, Tiffany realized that she might not be around for the milestones in her daughter’s life unless she quit smoking.

Mixing Tobacco Products: Dual Use

When you cut down on cigarettes by adding another tobacco product, you may feel that you're improving your health. Using two or more types of tobacco is called " dual use ." It is not an effective way to safeguard your health, whether you're using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), smokeless tobacco, or other tobacco products in addition to regular cigarettes. Quitting smoking completely is very important to protect your health. Smoking even a few cigarettes a day is dangerous.

Even "light" smokers or "social" smokers can have serious health problems from smoking.

  • Smoking just five cigarettes a day doubles your risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Just cutting back on cigarettes may not protect you from an early death. And on average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Kristy tried e-cigarettes to quit regular cigarettes, 
but ended up using both.

At age 33, Kristy, a smoker and mother of three, tried using e-cigarettes to help her quit regular cigarettes. She wanted to get rid of her smoker's cough and also protect her family from breathing secondhand smoke. Kristy just ended up using both tobacco products at once. Her cough didn't get better, and eventually, Kristy went back to smoking only cigarettes. Soon after, her lung collapsed. "I could never get completely off regular cigarettes until I wound up in the hospital," she said.

Today, Kristy loves being a nonsmoker. "I can actually breathe," she said. "I can play with my kids. When I smoked, I had no energy. It just affected my whole life!"

Resources for Quitting

People who stop smoking can greatly reduce their risk for disease and early death. The younger you are when you quit, the better your chances of avoiding health problems. But quitting later in life still has benefits. The following resources can help you quit smoking:

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