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Chronic smoking-related lung disease blights over 1 million lives in England

Around 25,000 deaths each year in England are attributable to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Public Health England (PHE) is today (29 December 2015) highlighting the debilitating nature of serious lung diseases for which smoking is the biggest preventable risk factor, after the latest GP figures revealed that more than 1 million people are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD is the umbrella term for serious lung conditions that include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

People with COPD have difficulties breathing, primarily due to the narrowing of their airways and destruction of lung tissue. Typical symptoms include breathlessness when active, a persistent cough and frequent chest infections.

Smokers can often dismiss the early signs of COPD as a ‘smoker’s cough’, but if they continue smoking and the condition worsens, it can greatly impact on their quality of life. Large numbers of people with COPD are unable to participate in everyday activities such as climbing stairs, housework or gardening; with many even unable take a holiday because of their disease.

HSCIC figures show COPD led to over 113,000 emergency hospital admissions in England in 2013 and 2014.

To highlight the impact of this progressive and debilitating disease, PHEhas released a new short film featuring Olympian Iwan Thomas, whose mother has recently been diagnosed with COPD. Together with 4 smokers, Iwan takes part in an experiment to illustrate the difficulties of living with advanced COPD and urges people to quit this New Year.

Alongside the impact on quality on life, approximately 25,000 people die each year from COPD in England: twice the European average. Around 86% of these deaths are caused by smoking.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer comments:

COPD is a serious lung disease and is not particularly well known. Yet it contributes to the deaths of almost 25,000 people a year. Nearly 90% of these COPD deaths are linked to smoking. COPD can also be a severely debilitating disease, dramatically affecting people’s breathing and leading to years of suffering. The single best thing a smoker can do to reduce their chances of developing this devastating disease and prolong their life, is to stop smoking.

Rosanna O’Connor, Director of Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco, Public Health England said:

Many people make New Year’s resolutions to change old habits and get healthier. Resolving to stop smoking not only improves your own health, but also helps protect the health of family and friends around you. Search ‘Smokefree’ online or visit your local stop smoking service to get the help and support you need to quit smoking for good.

Clinical lead for COPD at Royal Brompton Hospital, Reader in respiratory medicine at Imperial College London and medical adviser to the British Lung Foundation, Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, says:

My advice to anyone who smokes is don’t ignore a ‘smoker’s cough’ or getting out of breath. Take it as a sign to quit before any damage to your lungs gets worse. If diagnosed early; changes in lifestyle, treatments such as pulmonary rehabilitation, and prescription medications can slow down the progression of the disease and help patients cope with symptoms like breathlessness and fatigue. However, there is no cure forCOPD, so the single most important thing you can do to reduce the chances of getting the condition is to stop smoking completely.

Ex-Olympic athlete, Iwan Thomas whose mother has just been diagnosed with COPD, says:

I’ve never fully understood COPD or the everyday consequences but when the simple things like climbing the stairs, making a cup of tea or walking to the bus stop become impossible, it’s serious. After years of smoking, it’s great that my mum is making 2016 the year she quits and I’d urge anyone who smokes to do the same. Quitting smoking can add years to your life and life to your years.

Joanne Nevin (40), a long-term smoker from Newcastle, took part in the experiment alongside Iwan Thomas to see what living with severe COPD is like. Joanne says:

I had heard of COPD before, but I didn’t know all that much about it. Whilst I knew it was bad for you I just hadn’t had the push I needed to make me quit. Now that I’ve experienced what living with COPD is like, I wouldn’t wish the disease upon anyone. I am quitting smoking this January and I would urge anyone else who’s a smoker to quit with me.

Smokers looking to quit are being encouraged to search ‘Smokefree’ online or visit for the full range of free tools and support.

Background information

  1. For more information please contact
  2. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Twitter: @PHE_uk,
  3. All 2015 campaign images, TV adverts and online content can be downloaded by media.
  4. For more campaign assets, including case studies please or call 07534 258080
  5. While smoking rates have declined over past decades, smoking is still the biggest cause of preventable illness and premature deaths in the country - accounting for almost 80,000 deaths in England a year. One in every two long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking related disease unless they quit.
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