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8th February 2017

Smokers have 72 per cent risk of fatal lung disease

A new study finds that smokers with specific genes have an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
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This month, it was revealed that some smokers have a 72 per cent chance of developing a fatal lung disease.

A recent study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, found that certain members of the population are at a higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), including bronchitis or emphysema.

Scientists studied 2.4 million genetic differences in 350,000 people across 13 different countries, and discovered that the most susceptible individuals were 3.7 times more likely to develop COPD within their lifetime. Out of 100 smokers within this high genetic risk group, 72 per cent will go on to develop COPD.

COPD currently affects 3 million people in the UK and costs the NHS more than £800m a year. Its symptoms include breathlessness, a persistent chesty cough, and frequent chest infections. There is currently no cure for COPD.

However, results from the study have revealed several drug targets that could be used for its treatment in the future. Professor Ian Hall told The Independent: “The study [has allowed us to] understand the mechanisms which underlie disease risk, which in turn will provide a stimulus for drug development.”

Smoking is the main cause of COPD, as well as many other diseases. Despite increased public awareness of the associated health risks, the NHS report that almost a quarter of 16-34 year olds are smokers, compared to just 11 per cent of those aged over 60 years. An individual’s level of education is also thought to play a factor in the likelihood of smoking – those with a degree are least likely to smoke at just 9 per cent compared to 19 per cent overall.

But when the risks to health are so high, why do so many students smoke at all? Lev, a 21-year-old engineering student at the University of Manchester, said: “I know that smoking is bad for me and that I probably shouldn’t do it, but it’s a habit that I enjoy and I find it an important stress reliever.”

His friend, 23-year-old Maths student, George, agrees: “I personally started smoking socially when I was out drinking with friends, and then it just developed into a habit. I smoke now to de-stress, especially at work and university.”

Researchers of the study found that by stopping smoking in early adulthood, smokers within the high-risk group could reduce their chances of developing COPD by half. On this, George said: “I worry about the effects of smoking and I keep telling myself I’ll quit after uni, but I know it’s going to be harder than I think. If I knew I had a higher risk of developing COPD, I probably quit right away.”

It is this notion that Professor Martin Tobin believes will persuade some smokers to quit, and says that “information [from this study can be used] in prevention, such as for targeting smoking cessation services.”

Last year, the Government took drastic action to reduce the number of smokers in the UK. New laws ordered cigarettes and tobacco to be sold in standardised plain packaging, and for pictures of the harmful effects of smoking to cover at least 65 per cent of the box. It is believed that removing all branding from packs of cigarettes will make smoking less attractive for individuals, preventing more people from picking up the habit.

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