Conaway Legislation to Prevent & Treat Chronic Pulmonary Diseases Becomes Law

Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D. has been signed into law designating the month of November of each year as “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness Month” (COPD) in order to raise awareness about the deadly disease’s causes and considerable impacts and to promote improved prevention, detection, and treatment of the disease.

COPD, a term used to describe airflow obstruction that is associated mainly with chronic bronchitis and emphysema, affects an estimated 24 million people and kills more than 120,000 Americans every year.

“On average, one person dies from COPD every four minutes, an alarming statistic for a disease many are unfamiliar with,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “COPD currently accounts for a large number of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and outpatient treatments, all of which are burdensome to medical resources and our economy. Until there is a cure, preventing COPD and its considerable health, social, and financial impacts on New Jersey residents requires broader awareness of the disease’s causes and costs and greater support for efforts related to its detection and treatment.”

The new law directs the governor to annually issue a proclamation recognizing November as “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness Month” in New Jersey and to call upon public officials and residents to observe the month with appropriate activities and programs.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, COPD became the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2009. According to the American Lung Association, at least 294,000 New Jersey residents may be affected by chronic bronchitis and 130,000 by emphysema, two of the main conditions associated with COPD.

The American Lung Association estimates that COPD costs the nation an estimated $50 billion in direct and indirect medical costs annually.

Conaway noted that risk factors for COPD include smoking, exposure to air pollution, second-hand smoke, occupational dusts and chemicals, and a history of childhood respiratory infections. However, research has found that individuals with a hereditary protein deficiency called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin tend to develop COPD even without exposure to smoking or environmental triggers.

Recently, the death rate for women with COPD has surpassed the death rate of men with COPD, and women over the age of 40 are the fastest-growing segment of the population developing this disease due to increased numbers of women smoking over the past several generations; and

Currently, no cure exists for COPD, although spirometry testing and medical treatments exist to relieve symptoms and possibly slow the progression of the disease.