Teachers to warn children of the link between smoking and blindness

The blind chief executive of a national charity is appealing to teachers to help get the message across to children that smoking causes sight loss. Tony Rucinski’s views underpin a new resource pack being launched by the Macular Society, to help teachers explain the link between smoking and blindness.

According to the Macular Society, most of the 600 UK youngsters who start smoking every day don’t know that tobacco could eventually cost them their sight. A survey of 10 year olds found that 98% did not know that smoking causes blindness, but feared sight loss more than any other major consequence of smoking.

Research suggests smokers are up to four times more likely to get macular degeneration compared with non-smokers. Smokers with certain genes may be 20 times more likely to get it. The combination of smoking and genetics may account for as much as a third of all macular degeneration.

The resource packs for educators are part of Is it Real?, a viral video campaign to raise awareness of this issue. Liaising with teachers to effectively deliver the message of smoking causing blindness is key to the campaign. Resources could be used in subjects including art, science and PSHE. They are available to download on the campaign website www.is-it-real.org.

The campaign uses a series of three intriguing and unsettling videos designed to be shared on social network sites. For the launch the Macular Society has partnered with VivoMiles.com, a schools’ reward platform with 1.4 million users and a proven track record in bringing campaigns like this to millions of students. A questionnaire on attitudes to smoking will be included in the campaign which at least 20,000 children are expected to complete.

Consultant ophthalmologist, Phillip Moradi, from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London conducted the survey and will analyse the new data.

He said: “We need to have better information on which health messages will work with children. At the moment 600 children in the UK start smoking every day. That represents a devastating effect on the health of these young people later in their lives. It may seem logical to concentrate health messages on the life-threatening consequences of smoking but it may be that raising awareness of the risk of blindness would be more effective.”

The Society is criticising the slow progress in implementing an EU directive to put sight loss warnings on cigarette packets which was first agreed in 2012 and says current smoking advice often ignores the link with blindness.

Tony Rucinski , Chief Executive of the Macular Society, said: “We are failing children if we don’t tell them about the full dangers of smoking. Smokers are up to four times more likely to develop macular degeneration than people who have never smoked. Smokers with certain genetic characteristics are 20 times more likely to get it. The fact is that macular degeneration is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK. 200 people a day start to lose their sight because of it. Children are, rightly, concerned about the prospect of living with sight loss but adults seem to overlook this when planning anti-smoking campaigns. Anti-smoking messages must highlight the risk to sight.

“We recognise that teachers play a vital role in presenting effective health messages to children. I hope the exciting teaching resources combined with the videos we have created will help to inspire people within the education sector to get involved with the campaign.”

The resource packs offer activities, tools and inspiration for educators to teach young children about the dangers of smoking and the increased risk of blindness in later life including:

  • A Fact-Sheet about macular degeneration, its symptoms, causes and a series of interesting facts and figures to start conversations about what causes blindness.
  • KS3 suggested lesson ideas in the areas of Art and Design, Science and Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) as follows:
    • Art: exercises to help children understand and empathise with people affected by the condition  by visualising the impact central sight loss would have in the way they interact with their everyday environment
    • Science: Ideas and information on how to incorporate macular degeneration into science lessons and the study of the eye.
    • PSHE: A lesson plan to explore the link between smoking and blindness and the emotional and social implications sight loss can have for people  
  • Film making competition tools – a guide on how the Is it real? film competition can be incorporated into lessons. In this competition children are encouraged to develop a 16 second film inspired by a series of quotesabout how people with thecondition see the world.
  • Make your own simulation specs – a maker’s pack for children to create their own simulation specs and truly understand how it feels to have macular degeneration.
  • Stop smoking hints and tips – information and facts to help children, friends or a family member to stop smoking.

The campaign was devised in collaboration with Commonland, the design research specialist and was the result of workshops to explore children’s understanding of macular degeneration.

George Lee, founder of Commonland, said: “Young people don’t like being told what to do and traditional health warnings rarely work. During our research we realised most young children do not know about the link between smoking and blindness. Working closely with Macular Society we wanted to engage young people in the experience of macular degeneration by sparking their curiosity and empathy for people with the condition in a format they would feel compelled to share with others.”

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