Eye Health: Tobacco

Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr S.S. GILL talking to us about the effects of cigarettes on the eyes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its global partners celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on the 31st May 2019 and thus it would be good to look at the various effects of cigarette smoking on the eyes.

It is only recently that stricter laws have been implemented against smokers. Still, I feel that the effects of smoking have not been publicised enough in Malaysia. Most people tend to think that smoking only causes harm to the lungs only. Well, this is a myth because smoking harms nearly every organ in the body including the eyes. There is mounting evidence showing eye disorders that are linked to smoking.

There are two types of smoke generated from tobacco. Firstly there is the more dangerous sidestream smoke, meaning to say that it is more toxic than the smoke inhaled by the smoker. This is the smoke that is inhaled by the people who sit around a smoker and they are commonly referred to as passive smokers. Of course, there is also the mainstream smoke that is inhaled and exhaled by the smoker.

Be aware that cigarette smoke contains thousands of ingredients including cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) and agents that cause inflammation. Here is a brief review of the effects of smoking on our eyes.


Children who are exposed to the smoke from their cigarette smoking parents (passive smokers) are more prone to eye allergies. The conjunctiva of the eyes become inflamed (swollen) due to the exposure to cigarette smoke which is an irritant. Many parents who smoke do not realise these effects and may not take this seriously.


Smoking increases the risk of cataract formation. A cataract is a condition whereby the crystalline lens in the eye becomes cloudy and causing poor vision. The risk of cataract formation is 3-4 times more in an individual who is a smoker.

Smokers generally develop cataracts earlier than non-smokers because smoking reduces antioxidant supply to the eyes. Smoking releases a substance known as free radicals. These free radicals cause damage to the cells of the body including the eyes and lens, hence the cataract formation.

More on smoking in the next issue of Ipoh Echo.

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