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FOR RELEASE: May 1, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Oklahomans with Asthma Affected by Secondhand Smoke - County Estimates Released

World Asthma Day on May 7 provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the health effects of breathing secondhand tobacco smoke among Oklahomans who have asthma, according to tobacco use prevention officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).

Asthma is a chronic, long-term, inflammatory disease in which the airways of the lungs get blocked, causing the lungs to get less air than normal. Some symptoms of an asthma attack are difficulty breathing, wheezing, breathlessness, and chest tightness. One of the most common triggers leading to asthma attacks is exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

According to the American Lung Association, an estimated 180,000 Oklahomans of all ages and races suffer from asthma, of which about 55,000 are children. Estimates by county in Oklahoma range from a low of 165 adults and children with asthma in Cimarron County to a high of 34,577 adults and children with asthma in Oklahoma County. The average county in Oklahoma is home to about 2,350 persons with asthma. A list of county-by-county estimates of adults and children with asthma is available at www.health.state.ok.us/program/tobac/events.htm

The theme for this year's World Asthma Day is "Working Together, So Everyone can Breathe Better" to encourage a spirit of cooperation among health care providers, communities and businesses to work together to improve the quality of the air for everyone.

"Asthma is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening disease. Secondhand tobacco smoke is a known trigger for asthma attacks and childhood exposure may cause the onset of asthma," said Doug Matheny, chief of the OSDH Tobacco Use Prevention Service. "Much like a person in wheelchair is effectively denied access when a doorway is too narrow, the presence of secondhand smoke often limits where persons with asthma can go. World Asthma Day is an opportunity to recognize the fundamental rights of Oklahomans with asthma or other breathing disabilities to breathe smoke-free air inside public places and workplaces."

Nationally, asthma rates are rising more in preschool-aged children than any other group. Asthma accounts for about one-sixth of all pediatric emergency room visits.

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