Last updated on 25/11/2020

Asthma puffer sales pile up against bushfire smoke threat– new report finds 

Will new evidence translate into action for people with asthma?

Asthma Australia welcomes new evidence presented in the Australian Bushfires 2019/20; Exploring the short-term impactsreport, hoping the new data will spur on action around air quality.

Released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare(AIHW), the reportpresents critical evidence of how the 2019/20 bushfires impacted the health of affected communities, with a focus on people with respiratory diseases and conditions like asthma.

The report presents new data on the sale of asthma reliever puffers in Canberra at the height of the bushfire smoke air quality crisis – showing a significant increase in sales, as cited in the Report:

  • Inhaler sales (e.g. Ventolin, Asmol, Bricanyl) increased by 194% in the week commencing 29 December 2019 and by 204% the following week, when compared to the previous year.
  • Inhaler prescriptions dispensed through the PBS, increased by 81% and 134%, respectively, for these weeks when compared to the previous year

The report confirms that asthma is the most affected respiratory condition when exposed to bushfire smoke, affecting one in nine people. As demonstrated by the new sales figures having access to a reliever puffer is lifesaving medicine necessary in times of crisis, available over the counter or via a prescription.

Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman thanked the AIHW taking a detailed look at the situation and said the new evidence was illuminating.

“We need the government to lead the way and act on recommendations put forward by bushfire inquiries and this new report.

“There is no room left to question whether bushfire smoke is a threat to life or if we’ll see more fires in the future, the question now is when are we going to start managing the risk?”

Ms Goldman said Asthma Australia’s ‘Bushfire Smoke Impact Survey’, cited in the AIHW report,  found that public health advice didn’t do enough to protect vulnerable people, and many were relying on emergency medication including asthma relievers and oral steroid tablets.

“Even people who manage their asthma reported that bushfire smoke triggered asthma attacks and those that went to hospital particularly in Canberra, were sent home due to smoke inside critical care wards. As a community, we didn’t know what to do when facing this air quality crisis and we weren’t prepared for it,” she said.

“Australia is behind other countries in terms of monitoring and reporting and providing the community the access to tools to better avert being exposed to poor air. We need to learn from those leading in this space and we need investment put into action.”

Asthma Australia is seeking support from the Australian Government and state and territory governments to establish an AirSmart Campaign but are yet to receive funding despite several recommendations put forward by state inquires and the Royal Commission.

The Campaign would resemble the Cancer Council’s SunSmart campaign and help influence policy and community access to timely air quality and health information.

“Right at this time last year, a young woman named Courtney Partridge-McLennan died from an asthma attack triggered by bushfire smoke in Glenn Innes. She was holding one of these blue puffers. She didn’t have access to air quality information or health advice at the time, but what has changed for her community and her family?” Ms Goldman said.

People can get behind the Asthma Australia AirSmart campaign by donating to Courtney’s Fund, a special fund to help Asthma Australia protect the ability of Australians with asthma to breathe from the effects of bushfire smoke, in memory of Courtney Partridge-McLennan.