Letter: Preventable asthma

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The Independent Online
Sir: You report (15 January) that, according to an article in the British Medical Journal, 'fears that more people are dying from asthma may be exaggerated'.

It would be regrettable if your readers were to draw too comfortable a conclusion from that report. There are thought to be three to four million people in the UK with asthma, which causes 100,000 hospital admissions each year. The BMJ study raises a serious question of over-certification, but other studies have suggested that asthma deaths are under-reported. Whether asthma kills 1,500 or 2,500 people in the UK each year, each of those deaths is a tragedy, and it is our contention that at least 80 per cent of those tragedies are preventable.

Asthma is the only controllable disease that is on the increase in our society. Contrary to the popular view of it as a minor childhood complaint, it is a serious illness with no known cure which causes at best regular discomfort and at worst severe distress and danger to its growing number of sufferers. The impact on people with asthma of having to inhale other people's cigarette smoke is, as you also report, clear. Although it was deeply regrettable that the Government did not set formal targets for tackling asthma in its 1992 White Paper The Health of the Nation, those who live with the condition may draw some comfort from the Department of Health's recognition of the dangers of passive smoking.

The Government must be held to its commitment to introduce legislation if voluntary targets on non-smoking in public places are not met.

Yours faithfully,

MELINDA LETTS

Director

National Asthma Campaign

London, N1

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