Teenagers fear blindness more than lung cancer

March 5, 2007

Fear of going blind may be more likely to motivate teenagers to stop smoking than the fear of heart or lung disease.

Fear of going blind may be more likely to motivate teenagers to stop smoking than the fear of heart or lung disease, according to a report published online ahead of print by the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Simon Kelly from the Bolton Eye Unit, UK, led a collaboration of UK and New Zealand based researchers who developed a cross-sectional survey using a structured interview of teenagers attending four organised social events. They investigated the awareness and fear of blindness, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and a distracter condition (deafness). The aim was to establish the likelihood of whether smokers would quit on developing early signs of the various conditions.

Of the 260 16- to 18-year olds that were interviewed, 15%, 27% and 81% believed smoking caused stroke, heart disease and lung cancer, respectively. Just 5% thought that smoking caused blindness. Subjects were asked to rank their fear of each of the conditions, a score of five for the most feared and one for the least feared. Researchers found that subjects were significantly more fearful of blindness than of lung cancer, heart disease and deafness. Additionally, more teenagers said they would give up smoking if they developed early signs of blindness.

The researchers concluded that emphasizing the risk of blindness is more likely to encourage teenagers to stop smoking than by stressing the risks of lung and hearts disease.