Almost three quarters (73%) of smokers and ex smokers have not had a lung function test despite 21% of this group experiencing symptoms of a chronic lung disease in the last 12 months according to a new survey released today by the British Lung Foundation, ahead of World COPD Day.

The GFK NOP telephone survey of 403 current or ex smokers, commissioned by the British Lung Foundation, found that an alarming number had not asked their GP for a lung function test despite experiencing symptoms of a lung condition called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Out of the 73% of smokers who had not had a lung function test, over a fifth (21%) of the smokers and ex smokers interviewed had experiencedone or more of the following symptoms of COPD: persistent cough, breathlessness, wheezy chest, recurrent chest infections, excess phlegm and chest pain.

In addition to this, almost two in ten (19%) smokers and ex smokers said they felt breathless walking up a slight hill and 8% said they had to stop to take a breath to keep up with friends walking on the flat. Nine respondents even reported that they were so breathless that they were unable to leave their house, yet had not considered having a lung function test.

COPD is an umbrella term for a number of conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis and is characterised by permanent scarring to the lung tissue caused mostly by smoking. It is estimated that 3.7 million people in the UK have the disease, yet only 900,000 people are currently diagnosed. This means that almost 3 million people have the condition but don't know it.

GP and broadcaster Carol Cooper is supporting the British Lung Foundation's campaign to encourage smokers and ex-smokers to ask their GP for a lung function test.

She said "'I support the British Lung Foundation's 'Love your lungs' campaign as I think it is really worrying that many smokers or ex-smokers are experiencing early symptoms of COPD such as a persistent cough or breathlessness, yet haven't seen their GP for a lung function test. The 'smoker's cough' that so many smokers put up with is a sign of ill-health. They should get themselves checked as soon as possible as the sooner they are diagnosed and treated the better".

Dame Helena Shovelton, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation said, 'We are delighted Dr Carol Cooper is supporting our 'Love Your Lungs' campaign. Symptoms such as breathlessness and a persistent cough are often ignored by smokers or ex smokers as signs of getting older but they could be symptoms of COPD. COPD is a chronic, irreversible disease that can leave individuals unable to perform simple everyday tasks and dependent on oxygen if it is left untreated. It is important that people take the signs of COPD seriously and ask their GP for a lung function test as the sooner they are diagnosed and treated the better.'

The British Lung Foundation is holding free lung function testing as part its 'Love Your Lungs' campaign to mark World COPD Day and find the missing millions of people in the UK who have the disease. The charity is also launching a national competition to encourage people to learn about the condition and those taking part can win a Harrods Christmas hamper and a subscription to Delicious magazine. For more information log on to lunguk/loveyourlungs to find out more about the campaign and take part in the competition.


1. The British Lung Foundation commissioned GfK NOP to conduct a survey amongst adults aged 18+ who are current or ex smokers. A nationally representative survey of 403 adults aged 18+ was carried out 9th - 11th October 2009. Weighting was applied to the data to bring it in line with national profiles.

2. World COPD Day is an annual event organized by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) to improve awareness and care of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) around the world. World COPD Day 2009 will take place on November 18and the British Lung Foundation is leading this campaign in the UK.

3. COPD is the umbrella term for a number of lung conditions including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It kills more people every year than breast, bowel or prostate cancer

4. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive, irreversible lung disease. It is both preventable and treatable. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can slow the progression of the illness

5. The UK faces a chronic lung disease time bomb. COPD is already the fifth biggest killer in the UK and it is the only major cause of death whose incidence is on the increase

6. COPD is caused by smoking or by exposure to environmental pollution and to hazards at work such as dust, fumes and gases. In a very small number of people it is caused by a genetic deficiency

7. The British Lung Foundation is the only UK charity working for everyone affected by lung disease including COPD. We provide support via a telephone helpline; booklets on lung diseases and related issues; a comprehensive website; BLF community nurses; and a Breathe Easy support network for anyone affected by lung disease

British Lung Foundation

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