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Fifth of NI folk still tangled up in dreaded weed

By Rebecca Black

Almost one in five people in Northern Ireland (19%) is a smoker, Government figures have revealed.

In the UK only Scotland has more users of the dreaded weed, at 19.1%.

In Wales 18.1% of the population smokes, while in England it is 16.9%.

The figures, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), come just ahead of National No Smoking Day today.

In 2015 in the UK, 19.3% of men and 15.3% of women smoked cigarettes.

However, the number is steadily decreasing following initiatives by both Government and the private sector to help those affected kick the habit.

In 2015, of all adults in the UK, 17.2% smoked, down from 20.1% in 2010.

Smoking has become less common across all ages, with the largest decrease among those aged 18 to 24.

Average cigarette consumption has also reduced to 11.3 cigarettes a day - the lowest level since 1974.

It is estimated 2,300 people in Northern Ireland die every year due to smoking-related diseases.

In terms of e-cigarettes, there were 2.3 million users in 2015 in Britain - around 4% of the population there.

There were 4 million former users of e-cigarettes, and a further 2.6 million people who said they had tried an e-cigarette but never persisted.

Half of the 2.3 million current e-cigarettes users said their main reason for vaping was to help them quit smoking.

Just over one in five (21.9%) said their main reason for vaping was because they felt e-cigarettes were less harmful than normal ones. Despite the cost difference between vaping and smoking, just 10.2% gave this as the main reason.

A further 8.8% said their main reason was because they could use e-cigarettes indoors in bars and restaurants, where smoking tobacco was banned.

Meanwhile, charity Eye Health UK has warned that the relationship between smoking cigarettes and sight loss is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.

It is urging smokers to kick the habit for the good of their vision.

It said a smoker was four times more likely to lose their sight than someone who had never smoked, explaining that chemicals in tobacco smoke trigger biological changes in the eye which can lead to eye disease including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and thyroid eye disease.

It can also cause poor eye health by contributing to conditions such as lense dryness.

Research published in the British Medical Journal reveals one in five cases of AMD, the UK's leading cause of blindness, can be directly attributed to tobacco consumption - equating to around 120,000 cases of AMD across the country.

David Cartwright, chairman of Eye Health UK, said: "Half of all sight loss in the UK is avoidable and smoking is the single biggest modifiable risk factor.

"Saying 'eye quit' and joining the NHS smoke free programme will improve your eye health and significantly reduce your risk of losing your sight.

"After a decade or so being smoke free, your risk of sight loss reduces to that of a non-smoker."

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