Wiltshire’s Public Health team are highlighting the dangers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) today as part of a regional Smokefree South West campaign.

The Take a Breath campaign, being launched today, is being supported by the British Lung foundation and also marks World COPD Day. 

COPD is a debilitating and irreversible disease which accounts for more deaths every year in the UK than breast, prostate or bowel cancer and is caused mainly by smoking.

As the UK’s fifth biggest killer COPD has a major impact on the health of people in the South West with as many as 90,000 people currently registered with this condition.

There are still however estimated to be a further 55,000 people who remain undiagnosed across the South West.

The disease is also the second most common cause of emergency admission to hospitals and one of the most costly inpatient conditions treated, costing the NHS an estimated £579m nationally every year.

Many smokers do not realise they could have the disease - a survey by the British Lung Foundation found that nine out of ten British people had never heard of it.

The Take a Breath campaign aims to raise the awareness of the dangers of developing COPD through smoking by challenging the assumption among many smokers that being short of breath or having a wheezy chest is ‘normal’.

Because of symptoms such as these, COPD sufferers all too often dismiss the vital, early warning signs.

Wiltshire has 6,702 registered COPD sufferers, one of the highest in the region.

There are estimated to be a further 2,841 undiagnosed COPD sufferers in the Wiltshire PCT area.

Although any damage that has already occurred to your lungs cannot be reversed, COPD can be prevented from developing or getting worse by giving up smoking.

Darrell Gale, Consultant in Public Health for NHS Wiltshire said: “COPD remains a disease that very few people have heard of.

"We’re hoping this hard hitting campaign will catch people’s attention, raise local awareness of COPD and reinforce the stark dangers of continuing to smoke.

"Shockingly it is estimated that over 55,000 people living in the South West already have COPD but don’t know it. They remain undiagnosed and at risk of avoidable disability and worsening health.”

“Sometimes there is that one moment in life where you stop, draw breath, and think the time is now – I’m going to go for it!

"We want ‘Take a Breath’ to prompt local smokers to act now.

"We’ll provide the straight facts but also the positive news; that right across Wiltshire we have a wide range of effective and convenient support for people who want to take that vital next step to check out their health or to quit.

“As winter draws nearer, coughs and colds are becoming more common.

"We want smokers however to realise that a niggling cough that doesn’t go away or shortness of breath isn’t as normal as they might think. This can be the first signs of COPD.”

“We also want to show what living with the later stages of COPD is really like; few understand how it can limit or strip away some of the simple freedoms and pleasures in life.

"Walking with your family in the crisp autumn air, playing footie with your kids or grandkids. COPD is a disease that can completely change the way you live.

"The campaign will feature both TV and radio ads and aims to encourage smokers to quit smoking before it’s too late.”

Dr Steve Holmes, clinical respiratory lead for NHS South West and chairman of the British Lung Foundation South West, said: “Smoking is considered to be the main reason for developing COPD in the UK, a disease which is gradually progressive and affects thousands of people in the South West.

"If caught early there is plenty of help that can be provided and with support it is possible to reduce the impact of the disease.

"It is important to remember that in days gone by; smoking was considered fashionable and the norm. We know better now - but we don't all realise how addictive and dangerous smoking is."

Husband and wife Joyce Wood, 64, and David Wood, 70, from Chippenham have both developed COPD.

Joyce said: “I had my first cigarette when I was nine, but I didn’t start really inhaling until I was 13. Everyone did back then. Smoking was normal and no one ever told you how dangerous it was.”

“I was diagnosed with COPD five years ago, and after 55 years of smoking, I quit. Although, when our dog died, that was enough to set me off again.

"Although I then knew how bad it was for me, it was so easy to start smoke again. You’d have maybe one, then the next day you have two. Before you know it, you’re a smoker again.”

“When David had a health scare earlier this year, we went along to see the doctors.

"The GP told David, who also had developed COPD by then, that if he kept smoking he would die. And that was it. That was enough to finally stop us both.

"It scared us enough and all of a sudden became very real.”