It’s easy to imagine that cigarette smoke can damage the lungs but did you know it can also cause blindness?
To raise awareness of this and other less well known dangers of smoking, 16-year-old Au Eong Tian Wei Jonathan has written a story book to try to dissuade children from picking up the harmful habit.
For a Primary 5 school project in 2011, Jonathan conducted a survey on 80 fellow P5 pupils to assess their awareness of various smoking-related conditions, and how this knowledge impacted their perception of smoking and future smoking habits.
Almost all pupils (98.7%) were aware that smoking is harmful to health. The proportion of pupils who were aware of smoking-related conditions, in decreasing order, were: lung disease (96.8%), cancer (91.1%), heart disease (82.6%), stroke (68.4%) and blindness (38.0%).
Close to 9 in 10 (88.6%) pupils reported that their knowledge of smoking-related conditions deterred them from smoking.
Unfortunately, smoking among Singaporeans aged 18 to 29 years old is on the rise, increasing from 12.3% in 2004 to 16.3% in 2010. Jonathan wants to do his part to try to stop this trend by raising awareness through a children’s storybook he has written.  He has targeted children because cigarette smoking often starts during childhood or teenage years. In fact, 4 in 5 Singapore smokers pick up the habit before they turn 21. “I have always believed that education from a young age about healthy habits is extremely important,” said Jonathan.
The book, When Daddy’s Vision Becomes “Smoky”, highlights some of the lesser known smoking-related conditions through a story about a boy and his father. The book will be available from 31 May or World No Tobacco Day, a day marked by the World Health Organisation and its partners to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocate for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.
“Many patients are shocked when they find out they have cataracts and it was caused by smoking,” said Adjunct Associate Professor Yip Chee Chew, Senior Consultant and Head of Ophthalmology and Visual Services Department at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. “The toxins in the cigarette smoke not only affect the lung, they also have an adverse effect on various parts of the eye such as the macula, optic nerve and retinal blood vessels. Smoking has been reported to increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration, besides cataract.” Prof Yip explained.
“I am very impressed by Jonathan ’s effort to reach out to both the young and perhaps, the not so young too. This is a promising start to advocacy,” says Mr Chan Poh Meng, Principal, Raffles Institution, where Jonathan is a Year 4 pupil.