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Quit smoking to reduce chances of lung disease

SMOKERS in County Durham are being urged to quit and reduce their risk of developing a disease, which can leave sufferers fighting for breath. 

Fresh's 'Every Breath' campaign is raising raise awareness of smoking and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is being supported by the British Lung Foundation.

COPD is the UK's fifth biggest killer, is mainly caused by smoking and feeling breathless is an early sign. Sufferers can end up feeling like they are suffocating and one major study even suggests at least 1 in 4 smokers will develop clinically significant COPD

The North East is one of the hardest hit regions with an estimated 93,273 people living with the condition. In County Durham, North Durham, figures suggest around 6,559 people are living with COPD. In Darlington this figure is 2,912 and in Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield around 8,819 have COPD.

The North East also has the highest hospital admission rates from COPD with around 8,729 people admitted in 2011.

COPD is an umbrella term to describe a number of lung conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. With emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs are gradually destroyed with every cigarette so people have difficulty absorbing enough oxygen. The bronchi become floppy and narrow so that it becomes harder to breathe in and out.

Smoking is the single biggest cause of the condition, responsible for around 80% of cases with every cigarette smoked causing further damage. There are varying levels of severity but once the damage is done, it is irreversible. Quitting smoking is the one clear way to reduce your risk.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: "COPD is a disease that too many smokers are not aware of until they are diagnosed, but research suggests that more than a quarter of smokers will develop it.

"Those figures are truly alarming, especially when so many people who smoke do suffer from early warning signs like feeling short of breath but dismiss them as a "normal" part of smoking. Not being able to breathe properly is something nobody wants to happen to them,

"When we ran this campaign in 2011 thousands of people quit as a result which is why we are running it again - it is never too late to quit smoking and it is the best way to reduce the risk."

Michael Davis, from Wingate, County Durham, was diagnosed with COPD in 2009 when he was only in his late 40s. Although his health was badly deteriorating, Michael admits he had never given much thought to the way smoking was affecting him.

The 55-year-old said: "I was not bothered at all about smoking or what it was doing to me, until I got bad - then I was terrified. I basically died twice in hospital last year. Twice in the space of a week I was gone.

"I collapsed at home and when the ambulance came I begged the paramedics to let me die. I was asthmatic as a child and I've had my fair share of asthma attacks. They are nothing compared to this. I couldn't breathe, couldn't even catch a breath. It was like I was suffocating. I said 'please just let me die' because it was that awful.

"When I got out of the hospital I said that was it. I was never going to have a cigarette again."

Dr Neil Munro, consultant respiratory physician, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Smoking is the biggest cause of COPD and every cigarette smoked damages the lungs further. There is not a day of my working life goes by without treating  patients whose lives have been blighted by the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. COPD makes everyday activities such as walking upstairs, shopping or doing housework difficult.

"It is vital anyone with the early warning signs such as feeling out of breath, morning cough or bronchitis in the winter months quits smoking. Stopping cigarettes and discussing with your GP about further investigation and treatment may help prevent you becoming permanently disabled by smoking related diseases. Don't wait until your health has gone up in smoke."

An estimated 1.2 million people in the UK are living with diagnosed COPD. However, the British Lung Foundation estimates millions more people in the UK may be living with COPD and experiencing symptoms without being diagnosed.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive, British Lung Foundation said: "Any campaign that raises awareness of lung conditions and the steps people can take to prevent them is welcome. We know that smoking is a key factor in developing lung disease, especially COPD and lung cancer. Giving up smoking with the help of NHS quit smoking services is a great first step in preventing further lung damage, it's never too late!"

Anyone who feels breathless doing everyday tasks should consider taking the BLF's online breath test to see if they need to see a doctor.

The study suggesting 1 in 4 smokers will develop COPD was published in Thorax - the official journal of the British Thoracic Society. It studied over 8000 people in Denmark over a 25 year period. It found 25% of the smokers without any initial symptoms of the disease developed "clinically significant" COPD, while up to 40% had some signs of the condition.

Every Breath will run for five weeks and will be supported by hard-hitting TV advertising backed by musician Sting, and an online breathing exercise where people can experience what it feels like to suffer from COPD.

Sting, who is originally from the North East, said: "Many people across the UK are affected by lung damage and other smoking related illnesses, particularly in the North East where I grew up. I'm pleased to support a programme which works towards giving people the motivation and support they need to quit."

For further information and support on quitting, visit

To get your quit attempt underway, ask at your GP surgery or pharmacy, or contact your local stop smoking service for help and support:

  County Durham Smokefreelife - 0800 772 0565 or text QUIT to 66777

  Darlington - 0300 123 1044 (national quitline only)

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