Six Public Health Issues Affecting Lung Health | American Lung Association

Six Public Health Issues Affecting Lung Health

(April 1, 2015) - Chicago, IL

Healthy lungs are essential to a long, active life, yet according to the American Public Health Association, chronic lung disease is more prevalent and associated with a higher mortality rate for Americans than for citizens in other nations.

“Health begins where we live, learn, work and play, and it’s important to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect us and prevent disease,” said Albert Rizzo, M.D., senior medical advisor for the American Lung Association. “The American Lung Association envisions a world free from lung disease, which requires addressing public health concerns that threaten lung health.”

In an effort to raise awareness about lung health during National Public Health Week (April 6-12, 2015), the American Lung Association identifies top public health issues affecting lung health (in no particular order):

Smoking: Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the country—every year in the United States., close to half a million people die from tobacco-caused disease. Tobacco contains the highly addictive substance nicotine as well as carcinogens and other toxins that cause disease and death. The American Lung Association is working to strengthen laws and policies that prevent young people from starting to smoke, including making sure the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has oversight authority over all tobacco products. We are also committed to helping smokers quit with our smoking cessation programs.

Secondhand Smoke: Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard, causing close to 50,000 deaths per year. It can cause or exacerbate a wide range of adverse health effects, including lung cancer, respiratory infections and asthma episodes. Even a relatively brief exposure can trigger a heart attack. The American Lung Association supports measures to require totally smokefree environments to protect public health.

Outdoor Air Pollution and Climate Change: Outdoor air pollution continues to threaten our nation’s health, endangering millions of people in the U.S. The American Lung Association reports on the effects of ozone, particle pollution, and other outdoor air pollutants, which pose special risks to the health of vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and people with lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The Clean Air Act, one of the nation’s most effective public health laws, must be enforced. Key steps underway to clean up power plants and vehicles must continue if the nation is to ensure that the air outside is safe to breathe. Scientists warn that climate change from the buildup of greenhouse gases is creating warmer temperatures, which increase the risk of unhealthful ozone and particle pollution levels in large parts of the U.S. Even with the steps that are in place to reduce emissions, changes in climate will make it harder to clean up ozone in the future. Climate change also leads to other health threats from heat waves, drought, flooding, more intense hurricanes, and the spread of disease. To protect human health, the nation needs strong measures to reduce ozone, particle pollution and the carbon pollution that causes climate change.

Indoor Air Quality: “You may not know it, but the air in your home or workplace can be hazardous to your health,” Rizzo said. Consistent use of effective smokefree air laws and policies, building and housing codes and healthy indoor air guidelines and management practices can protect public health indoors and in workplaces. Every home should be tested for radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer. Families can take additional, simple steps to protect themselves in their homes. Updated and enforced housing and building codes can help ensure that housing, especially multi-family housing, has safe indoor air quality. Schools should have a process in place to improve indoor air quality to protect all children, because their lungs are still developing. Employers should take steps to ensure they follow recommended practices to protect their employees in the workplace. Indoor air requires special focus during an emergency, such as flooding or tornadoes or hurricanes

Obesity Epidemic: Obesity is an important risk factor for the development of asthma, obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing. Obese patients often use more medications, suffer worse symptoms and are less able to control their asthma than patients in a healthy weight range. Poor asthma control over time can lead to airway remodeling, a feature of asthma that leads to diminished lung function.

Missed Opportunities for Disease Prevention, Including Vaccinations: “It’s always better to prevent a disease than to treat it,” Rizzo said. “Proven public health strategies, such as washing your hands and staying up-to-date on vaccinations, can protect both you and those with whom you come in contact.” Despite the readily available safe and effective vaccines for influenza and pneumonia, millions of people who are at an increased risk from these preventable, yet deadly, respiratory diseases fail to get vaccinated.

For more tips on promoting and protecting lung health, visit For media who are interested in speaking with an expert on lung health or healthy air, contact

Ask An Expert

Questions about your lung health? Need help finding healthcare? Call 1-800-LUNGUSA.

Get help
We need your generous support

Make a difference by delivering research, education and advocacy to those impacted by lung disease.


LUNG FORCE unites women and their loved ones across the country to stand together in the fight against lung cancer.

Get involved
Join the fight for healthy lungs and healthy air.
Donate Now.