Chronic cough hacks away at smokers' health

Smokers are being warned of the dangers of chronic lung disease Keystone Archive

More than 350,000 people in Switzerland suffer from a smoker’s cough that could claim their lives before they hit retirement age.

This content was published on November 17, 2004 - 13:56

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), to use the medical term, is a condition characterised by a progressive closing of the respiratory tract.

To mark World COPD Day on Wednesday, the Swiss Lung League has launched a new brochure warning that chronic coughing could mean serious trouble.

The condition is caused by chronic irritation of the respiratory tract coupled with inflammation of the lungs, usually due to tobacco use, the League says.

With one in three adults in Switzerland a smoker – one of the highest rates in Europe – the Swiss are particularly vulnerable to the disease, said Lung League project manager Karin Brunner.

The incidence of smoker’s cough, worldwide, has risen 163 per cent since 1965, she added.

“[People with the condition] are short of breath,” Brunner told swissinfo. “They have to leave their jobs. They need oxygen machines. It’s a very severe problem.”

Not irreversible

The World Health Organization ranks smoker’s cough fourth among the world’s most common causes of death, and warns that half of sufferers die before age 65.

People often do not seek help until their lungs are functioning at less than half their normal capacity.

But Brunner says the good news is that some lung function can be recovered if you quit smoking soon enough.

The Lung League is recommending that smokers over 40 undergo regular tests to check the condition of their lungs.

The new brochure outlines the early symptoms - including shortness of breath during physical activity, hacking cough, audible whistling with inhalation, and increased mucus. There is also a test that enables smokers to determine their personal risk of contracting the condition.

Smoking restrictions

Ultimately, health advocates would like to see more restrictions on smoking in Switzerland, but most agree a nationwide ban on smoking in public places is unlikely because sectors such as the hotel trade are regulated locally.

Relative to other countries in Europe, Switzerland has few limitations on smoking in public places and low tobacco prices – despite the recent 50 centimes increase in the price of a packet of cigarettes to SFr5.80 ($4.50).

Italian-speaking Ticino looks set to become the first Swiss canton to impose restrictions on smoking in restaurants, bars, hospitals and government buildings.

Rightwing parties have protested that smoking restrictions would undermine freedom.

swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen

Key facts

A new booklet, Smoker’s Cough, by the Swiss Lung League, outlines symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the condition, including a test to calculate risk of developing it.
Without intervention, the condition kills half of sufferers by age 65.
“Smoker’s” cough can be caused by exposure to dust or, rarely, by an inherited protein deficiency, but is commonly caused by tobacco use.

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In brief

Switzerland has few restrictions on smoking in public places and one in three adults is a smoker.

Some US states and cities, like California and New York, have smoking restrictions, while Ireland and Norway have imposed a nationwide ban.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says tobacco kills 4.9 million people worldwide every year, or one every 6.5 seconds. Its goal is a maximum of one smoker in five adults.

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