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Years Of Smoking Can Lead To Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In January, talk show icon and long time smoker Johnny Carson died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Now, some with the disease want to warn a new generation of smokers.

Smoking is not as socially acceptable as it once was, but teens are still lighting up.

"You can't put this stuff in your lungs and expect it not to do any harm," said 67-year-old Armand Boyer.

Boyer started his habit at age 9. He quit 30 years later.

"I just came home one night and was coughing and gagging and just threw the cigarettes away," he said.

However, the years of smoking took its toll. Seven years ago, Boyer learned he had COPD. It results in shortness of breath, persistent coughing and wheezing. The least activity causes fatigue.

"We know what causes COPD here. Ninety percent of it is due to smoking," said Dr. David Henke, a pulmonologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Your risk of being sick or dying is twice what it is if you're not a smoker."

Boyer participates in studies testing new medications for COPD. He used to be an avid golfer, but the disease sapped his strength. When he was a teen, he did not think smoking could hurt him.

"It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow, but 20 years down the road, it's going to jump up and bite you to some extent," Boyer said.

The American Lung Association of North Carolina is in the midst of a COPD awareness campaign.


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