UW’s Propel Centre releases report on how smoking can cause blindness

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It’s been 50 years since US Surgeon General Luther Terry released a report indicating the health risks of smoking, and there is still ongoing research being done to provide the best statistics available to indicate trends in smoking demographics among Canadians. UW researchers at the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact have recently released an in-depth report, “Tobacco Use In Canada: Patterns and Trends,” which highlights these statistics. The Propel Centre also provides resource tools based on new discoveries that were previously unknown in the past.


“One of the health consequences from smoking that they didn’t really know about 50 years ago [is] smoking’s effect on ocular health, like vision,” said Prof. Ryan Kennedy, who is an adjunct professor at UW.


Although Prof. Kennedy is an assistant professor in the department of health, behavior, and society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, he was previously a scientist at the Propel Centre, and remains a part-time contributor. Kennedy said that UW’s interdisciplinary approach to research makes it unique, and that the school of optometry plays a crucial role in current smoking-related research, as it is conveniently located.


“One of the cool things about the University of Waterloo is that we have the only English language school of optometry in Canada,” he said. “Most of the optometrists that practise in Canada then go [on] to the University of Waterloo, so if we want optometrists to be more engaged in talking to their patients about the impact of tobacco on vision health, they’re really well situated at Waterloo to do that because we have a really important school of optometry right in our backyard.”


The Propel Centre now has downloadable resources that provide information on vision-related smoking problems such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and cataracts, which cause blurry vision. Smokers have a higher risk of developing these eye-related diseases, and the Propel website also provides information as to how smoking causes blindness, as well as links to studies and research reports. Among these reports is “Tobacco Use In Canada: Patterns and Trends,” prepared by the Propel Centre’s project manager Jessica Reid, and School of Public Health and Health Systems Prof. David Hammond.


The report highlighted that about 17.3 per cent of Canadians (4.9 million) are smokers, and that the majority were in between the ages of 20 and 34. The report also suggests that 21 per cent of Canadian smokers are in between the ages of 20 and 24, and that “substantial differences in smoking prevalence by education level persisted over the last decade, particularly for having a university degree vs. not.”


Although the number of smokers has decreased since the 1960s, current research suggests that smoking related health risks are still being discovered.