Lung conditions are the cause of one in 10 of all deaths in Europe and smoking is a major factor, says a report from the European Respiratory Society.
It says deaths from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) will rise over the next 20 years because of past smoking rates.
But a British lung charity says lung disease kills one in four in the UK.
Yet it does not receive priority when it comes to prevention, treatment or research funding, it says.
The data, presented in a publication called the European Lung White Book, uses the latest data from the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to analyse trends in lung disease.
In the WHO European Region, which stretches from the Atlantic to Central Asia, it found that the four most commonly fatal lung diseases – lower respiratory infections (including pneumonia), COPD, lung cancers and tuberculosis – accounted for one-tenth of all deaths.
Among the 28 countries of the European Union, however, these diseases account for one in eight deaths, the White Book said.
Only Belgium (117 deaths per 100,000 population), Denmark, Hungary and Ireland had higher death rates from lung disease than the UK, at 112 per 100,000 people.
Finland and Sweden had the lowest mortality rates of 53.7 and 55.7 per 100,000.
But the report said the proportion of total deaths attributed to a lung condition is highest in the UK and Ireland, a figure which the British Lung Foundation puts at one in four people.
The data in the White Book also shows that half of the total socio-economic costs of respiratory disease can be put down to smoking.
It describes tobacco smoking as “the most important health hazard in Europe” and it maintains that smoking is the main preventable cause of death from illnesses such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and coronary artery disease.
While smoking rates in many high-death rate countries such as Denmark and the UK have fallen significantly since the 1970s, the report says the long-term effects of those habits are keeping cases of lung cancer and COPD at high levels.
This means the proportion of deaths caused by lung conditions is likely to remain stable over the next 20 years, even though a decrease in lung infections is predicted.
Since 2000, the NHS has offered free counselling and drugs to people who want to stop smoking. The White Book says this approach “results in more smokers becoming involved in cessation attempts”.
After analysing hospital admissions data across the EU, the book found a wide variation in figures which did not match the pattern of mortality.
It said this could be due to national differences in the quality of community care patients receive, which may prevent some hospital admissions.
In conclusion, Prof Francesco Blasi, president of the European Respiratory Society, said of the data in the White Book: “Both the prevention and treatment of lung diseases will need to be improved if their impact on longevity, quality of life of individuals and economic burden on society are to be reduced in Europe and worldwide.”
Prof Richard Hubbard, from the British Lung Foundation, says the report doesn’t tell the full story of the burden of respiratory disease in the UK.
“Diseases like lung cancer and COPD do kill tens of thousands of people each year, but there are over 40 different types of lung disease. Mortality rates for some of these, such as IPF and mesothelioma, have been steadily increasing for decades.
“Taken all together, it is likely that around a quarter of deaths in the UK each year are from respiratory disease – as many as are killed by all non-lung-related forms of cancer put together.”
He said one reason for the UK’s high death rates for diseases like lung cancer suggest that patients were going to see their doctor too late.
Prof Hubbard added that treatment and prevention of lung disease was not given enough priority by NHS England and researchers were not given enough funding.
“For instance, investment in lung cancer research totals around a third of that allocated to breast cancer, half that allocated to bowel cancer and less than half that allocated to leukaemia, even though it currently kills more people per year than all three put together.”