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Respiratory Policies

Chs 8063
  • Currently in NI there are 40,955 people living with COPD (2% of the population) (2)
  • 122,178 people living in NI are living with asthma (7% of the population) (2)
  • In 2017, diseases of the respiratory system accounted for 13% of all deaths (2,145)– note this figure excludes lung cancer and asthma
  • COPD accounts for 47% of all respiratory deaths


NICHS are working with a range of clinicians to organise and develop a programme of asthma education initially with healthcare professionals and primarily aimed at improving care for children. We are also seeking to do more promotional work in schools.

Generally asthma care has not improved as much as hoped in recent years. NICHS believe that by replicating some of the developments in countries such as Finland there is an opportunity to significantly improve the situation for asthma sufferers in Northern Ireland


NICHS’s Breathing Better Support Network is a collaborative service provided by NICHS, Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) and local leisure facilities. It incorporates NICHS’s Respiratory Family Support, ‘Taking Control’ Self-Management Programme and Respiratory Support Group, with HSCTs’ pulmonary rehabilitation programmes and maintenance exercise classes offered by leisure centres, which are part funded by PHA.

In addition to providing care and support services, NICHS runs various education campaigns and health promotion services to increase awareness, prevention and early detection.

COPD is largely a preventable condition, and its risks can be reduced by avoiding smoking, the most common cause for COPD.

NICHS campaigns for

  • increased awareness and referrals and access to our Breathing Better Services with a large focus on self-management of the condition to improve quality of life and enhanced independence
  • early detection and prevention by calling on further reduction in smoking rates and in particular to close the inequality in smoking with 30% smoking in less affluent areas compared to 18% for the general population


Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland, killing around 2,300 people each year. NICHS believes it is imperative, therefore, that government takes all reasonable measures possible which it believes may reduce the prevalence of smoking.

  • Our successful campaign was for legislation to ban smoking in cars carrying children. Thankfully this will now come into force in early 2022.

E – Cigarettes

We recognise that some smokers may choose to use e–cigarettes to help them cut down and/or quit and we recognise they are safer than using normal cigarettes. We don’t know, however, about their long–term effects. We recommend that you use the currently approved smoking cessation programmes, products and medicines. We currently do not support a ban on the use of e–cigarettes in buildings and places where a ban on smoking is in operation.

    We at NICHS want to see:

    • The age at which individuals can buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes (vapes) increased to 21 years.
    • An increase of a year, every year, to the age at which individuals can buy these products.
    • A restriction on the flavours and colours of all vapes to make them less attractive to children and a total ban on disposable vapes.
    • Increase in enforcement of restrictions on sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes, including limiting where they can be sold.
    • An introduction of larger fines and on the spot fines, to those retailers who break the law.

    Please see more detail on our Vaping/E-Cigarettes Policy Statement below.

    Tobacco Retailers Act (Northern Ireland) 2014

    We supported this Act which creates a register of all tobacco retailers and introduces new sanctions for those found guilty of selling to children. We worked closely with the Assembly in support of amendments to strengthen the Act. The Act includes changes such as making “proxy buying” (buying cigarettes on behalf of a person under 18 years old) an offence.

    • We strongly support the ‘escalator’ by which tobacco tax and increased every year ahead of inflation. There is strong evidence that this is the most effective method of encouraging people to give up smoking.
    • We believe that smokers should be offered a comprehensive range of services to help them quit.
    • We believe illegal cigarettes are undermining efforts both to persuade people to quit and the efforts to prevent people taking up smoking in the first place. We urge government and HMRC to increase the resources devoted to combating this issue.

    Air Quality

    We are concerned about the current and future impact of air quality and pollution on our health. Air pollution can exacerbate existing conditions, including respiratory diseases, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases and Coronary Heart Disease.

    We are calling for further actions and measures to limit these effects.

    A report published by Public Health England in 20142 estimated that in 2010, 553 deaths in over-25s in Northern Ireland were attributable to exposure to anthropogenic (i.e man-made) air pollution.

    Read our Air Quality Position Paper.

    Respiratory Manifesto

    We have worked with our charity’s service users, supporters and governance board to develop our Respiratory Manifesto, “Making It Easy For All Of Us To Breathe”. We have presented the manifesto to politicians, policy makers, physicians and the press to highlight the burden of respiratory disease in Northern Ireland, but more importantly, to call for the introduction of health policies and changes in legislation that will lead to improvements in the care and treatment of chest illnesses.

    Northern Ireland has been without a Services Framework for Respiratory Health and Wellbeing since 2018. The previous framework had 56 standards to improve respiratory services in NI. Sadly, this was not delivered, and services did not improve due to a lack of political and health service leadership and investment. As a result, we are now calling on the Department of Health and policy makers to make respiratory health and services a priority area for action.

    NICHS and our respiratory community want to see reforms across a number of areas to improve lung health for the people of NI. These are:

    • Prevention, early detection and awareness
    • Air quality
    • Smoking prevention and cessation
    • Asthma
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
    • Bronchiectasis
    • Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)
    • Sleep Apnoea

    Amongst the priority areas for improvement are the introduction of a new lung strategy, early detection and diagnosis of respiratory problems, equal and appropriate access to the best medicines, and a new and ambitious tobacco and E-cigarettes control strategy. We hope that political parties and health policy makers will support our Manifesto asks to improve lung health.