Deadly habit taking toll on health system

THE Northern Rivers is home to more than 21,500 smokers and their habit is taking a toll on the region's health system.

About 900 smokers in the Lismore area alone are hospitalised each year for treatment of a deadly cigarette-related lung disease.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study reveals that an average of 901 Lismore patients are hospitalised each year with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which often presents as emphysema.

University of Adelaide research shows there are at least 21,560 smokers living in the Lismore, Byron Bay, Ballina, Casino and Kyogle areas.

The region however has one of the lowest overall admission rates for the disease in the country.

At 12,480 admissions, the NSW Central Coast has Australia's highest level of the disease.

According to the Lung Foundation Australia, the illness costs the national health care system about $900 million annually.

Five percent of people aged over 55 have the disease that can also present as chronic bronchitis or chronic asthma.

Lung health expert John Upham, from Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital, said COPD is common among smokers.

"People can get a chest infection and suddenly they go from being slightly out of breath to be being very sick and end up in hospital for a week," Prof Upham said.

"That costs the health care system thousands and thousands of dollars."

Lung Foundation chief Heather Allen said the disease could ruin life's simple pleasures.

"Many patients living with COPD have abandoned favourite activities and in patients with more severe disease there is distressing breathlessness performing the simplest activities of daily life," she said.



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease:

- About 5% of Australians over 55 have it.

- It is more common than road crashes.

- Smokers are most at risk of developing it.

- Health experts say prevention is the best medicine.

- Treatments are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.



Sunshine Coast - 12,276

Ipswich - 11,272

Mackay - 2053

Toowoomba - 1726

Rockhampton - 892

Lismore - 901

Bundaberg - 711

Gladstone - 480

Fraser Coast - 389

Gympie - 276

Grafton - 272

Warwick - 175

* These figures are the average number of people admitted to hospital each year.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

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