Thorax 61:1043-1047 doi:10.1136/thx.2006.064410
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Prevalence, diagnosis and relation to tobacco dependence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in a nationally representative population sample

  1. L Shahab1,
  2. M J Jarvis1,
  3. J Britton2,
  4. R West1
  1. 1Cancer Research Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  2. 2Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham, Clinical Sciences Building, City Hospital, Nottingham NG5 1PB, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    L Shahab
    MSc, Cancer Research Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK; lion.shahab{at}
  • Received 27 April 2006
  • Accepted 25 August 2006
  • Published Online First 13 October 2006


Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth most common cause of death worldwide. It is caused primarily by cigarette smoking. Given its importance, it is remarkable that reliable national prevalence data are lacking for most countries. This study provides estimates of the national prevalence of COPD in England, the extent of under-detection of the disorder, and patterns of cigarette smoking, dependence, and motivation to stop smoking in those with the disease.

Methods: Data from 8215 adults over the age of 35 who participated in the Health Survey for England were analysed. Information was obtained on self-reported and cotinine validated smoking status, cigarette dependence, motivation to stop smoking, COPD defined by spirometry using joint American Thoracic Society and European Respiratory Society criteria, and self-reports of diagnosis with respiratory disorders.

Results: Spirometry-defined COPD was present in 13.3% (95% CI 12.6 to 14.0) of participants, over 80% of whom reported no respiratory diagnosis. Even among people with severe or very severe COPD by spirometric assessment, only 46.8% (95% CI 39.1 to 54.6) reported any diagnosed respiratory disease. A total of 34.9% (95% CI 32.1 to 37.8) of people with spirometry-defined COPD were smokers compared with 22.4% (95% CI 21.4 to 23.4) of those without, and smoking prevalence increased with disease severity. Smokers with spirometry-defined COPD were more cigarette dependent but had no greater desire to quit than other smokers.

Conclusion: COPD is common among adults in England and is predominantly undiagnosed. In smokers it is associated with higher degrees of cigarette dependence but not with a greater motivation to stop smoking.


  • Funding: LS is an MRC funded PhD student. RW is funded by Cancer Research UK and MRC.

  • Competing interests: MJJ has accepted honoraria for speaking and travelling expenses from pharmaceutical companies making smoking cessation products. JB and RW have undertaken research and consultancy for companies developing and manufacturing smoking cessation medications. RW is also a co-holder of a patent for a novel nicotine inhalation device.

  • The Health Survey for England is commissioned by the Department of Health and carried out by the Joint Survey Unit of the National Centre for Social Research and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London. The data were made available through the UK Data Archive. These bodies bear no responsibility for the analyses and interpretation reported here.