Welsh elections: prevent it

Sadly, there are currently no cures for long term respiratory illnesses, instead patients are prescribed treatment and medication to manage their symptoms or slow down the progression of their lung disease. Which makes prevention all the more important.

When people think about how best to prevent lung disease, stopping smoking is often seen as the number one measure people can take. However, reducing smoking alone will not prevent all lung disease. The homes we live in, the air we breathe, the jobs we do and our access to exercise all have an important part to play in preventing poor lung health.

Outdoor air pollution kills, Welsh lungs shouldn’t pay

There is no safe level of air pollution. An air pollutant is any substance in the air that could harm people. Particulate matter, known as PM, and nitrogen dioxide are particularly damaging.

When people are exposed to high pollution levels, for example on a busy road or during a high pollution episode, they breathe in these toxic materials into their lungs. Many people initially experience immediate symptoms such as irritated airways, feeling out of breath and coughing.

People with a lung condition suffer further with high levels of air pollution. Such toxins can exacerbate symptoms, such as an asthma attack or a COPD flare-up. People with asthma may notice that they need to use their reliever inhaler more than normal when pollution is high.

Poor air quality has been linked to several conditions, with growing emerging evidence that highlights the high levels of air pollution impacting every level of society by increasing the chances of lung cancer, childhood asthma, miscarriage, premature birth/low birth weight, heart disease, dementia, mental health, obesity and,many other conditions.

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to public health, second only to smoking. At a cost £1bn per year to our NHS, air pollution is draining our resources, straining our health system and cutting short over 2000 lives a year in Wales. It is a public health crisis.

Deliver a Clean Air Act within the first 100 days

Asthma + Lung UK Wales are calling for new WHO guidelines to be enshrined in new legislation as soon as possible. Kings College Londonfoundthat by cutting air pollution by even one-fifth in the UK’s most polluted Cities would reduce the number of lung cancer cases by between 5% - 7.6%.

Asthma + Lung UK Wales are calling for a new Clean Air Act to:

  • Enshrine in law WHO air quality guidelines
  • Mandate the Welsh Government to produce a statutory air quality strategy every 5 years
  • Provide a statutory duty on local authorities to appropriately monitor and assess air pollution, and take action against it
  • Introduce a ‘right to breathe’ whereby local authorities are obliged to inform vulnerable groups when certain levels breach recommended guidance

Asthma + Lung UK Wales are seeking cross party support in 2020 to fight and legislate to reduce and eventually stop this public health crisis.

We are therefore calling candidates of the 2021 Senedd elections to support the below pledge:

I believe the next Senedd must work to deliver a Clean Air Act for Wales so we can all breathe clean air through healthy lungs.

Stop pollution at its source

Tackling air pollution isn’t limited to reducing vehicle emissions. Asthma + Lung UK Wales are calling for:

  • Wales to be first country in the UK to promote a ban on new sales of diesel cars by at least 2025 and subject the most polluting vehicles in Wales to an emissions charge in all major towns and cities.
  • Greater investment in public transport and active travel, including delivering the South Wales Metro project and expanding the cycling network.
  • An ambitious plan to be in place to increase the electric car charging network and review alternative methods of fuel such as hydrogen. In order for Wales to be diesel/petrol free ready by 2030 to support the UK government’s aims for an outright ban of the saleof diesel and petrol cars by 2035.
  • A comprehensive scrappage scheme to help people replace polluting diesel and petrol cars with cleaner methods of transport.
  • Action to tackle vehicle idling.
  • Exclusion zones to be introduced near schools, and major hospitals and health care providers.
  • A review of smoke control zones to ban both the sale of inefficient wood burners and the most polluting domestic fuels.
  • A public health awareness campaign to help the public make positive choices not only for their health but for the health of others, our planet and future generations.

Supporting PHW Wales’ vision of a Nicotine Free Wales

The single largest causes of preventable ill health and a significant cause of health inequality in Wales is smoking tobacco products. Tobacco dependency is directly or indirectly linked to millions of deaths.

Wales is on course to meet the Welsh Government’s target to reduce adult smoking rates to 16% by 2020, but there are no future targets to reduce the numbers further.

E-cigarettes can be a helpful smoking cessation tool, so it's important that people who smoke, as well as health care professionals, have access to evidence-based information about e-cigarettes, and how they can be used as a quitting tool. We continue to look at the long-term health effects of e-cigs and would recommend that people use them for as short a time as possible to help them give up smoking. However, regulations on how e-cigarettes can be advertised need to be fully enforced, particularly ensuring products cannot appeal to young people.

Asthma + Lung UK Wales are calling for:

  • A new smoking and tobacco strategy with a target for a smoke-free nation by 2030 (5% or less smoking population).

  • A ban on public smoking in high streets across Wales.
  • The minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products in Wales to be raised to 21.
  • A review into the compliance and enforcement of current tobacco advertising and prohibiting laws, to seek tougher financial penalties for companies in breach of advertising laws around tobacco products. This is to reduce the impact of selling tobacco products in our most deprived communities.
  • A parliamentary inquiry into smoking cessation and tobacco control in Wales.
  • Continued support of ‘help me quit’ services provided by NHS Wales and funding for promotion of the services and campaigns for quitting.
  • Public Health Wales to develop independent guidance in the form of leaflets for smokers who choose vaping as a smoking alternative; stressing its short term use to quit, highlighting ‘help me quit' services and requiring e-cigarette retailers to display this guidance at all their stores across Wales and online.
  • More research into the impact of long-term use of e-cigarettes on the lungs of with people with lung conditions, particularly asthma.

Read next: how we can better diagnose lung disease