The number of women suffering from chronic lung disease has nearly doubled in the past 10 years and will continue to rise unless young women are discouraged from smoking, doctors said yesterday.

The number of women suffering from chronic lung disease has nearly doubled in the past 10 years and will continue to rise unless young women are discouraged from smoking, doctors said yesterday.

An analysis of data in the General Practice Research database, which contains information on about four million patients in England and Wales, showed the yearly prevalence of chronic lung disease has risen from 0.8 per cent to 1.36 per cent of the population.

Chronic lung disease, or COPD, is a general term used to describe chronically obstructed airflow in the delicate airways of the lungs. It is mostly caused by smoking. The incurable and crippling disease kills about three million people every year, making it the world's fifth most common cause of death.

The disease has previously been more common in men as they have in the past smoked much more than women. But female smoking reached a peak in 1966 with 45 per cent of women smoking regularly. These are the women who are now suffering from chronic lung disease. Although adult smoking has declined in the past 30 years, with 27 per cent of men and women saying they were regular smokers at the end of the Nineties, there has been a rise in the number of teenage girls who smoke. Nearly a third of 15-year-old girls say they smoke regularly.

The study, published in the journal Thorax, shows the rate of chronic lung disease in young women under 45 has exceeded men's for the first time and that those aged 45 to 65 had the same COPD rate as older men.

Dr William Maier, from the department of worldwide epidemiology at Glaxo Wellcome research and development in London, and co-author of the study, said: "While prevalence rates of COPD in the UK seem to have peaked in men they are continuing to rise in women. Additional education about the effects of tobacco smoking also appear to be needed to promote smoking cessation, especially in younger women."

The researchers foundpatients with severe COPD die on average four years earlier than expected, and those with mild COPD one year earlier.

Dr Melissa Hack, of the British Thoracic Society, said the Government needed to redouble its efforts to reduce teenage tobacco use. She said: "This female lung disease epidemic is the result of smoking patterns in the Fifties and Sixties. Many of these women are innocent victims of the tobacco industry's sordid denials of the health effects of smoking".

Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: "The message to young women is that if you are going to smoke like a man then you're going to get the same diseases and misery as men. The only answer is to quit now."

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