One in 10 young adults in the UK is at increased risk of lung disease later in life, says an international survey.
More people are falling prey to serious pulmonary diseases
Smoking is the main culprit for high rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, (COPD), including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Researchers from the University of Verona in Italy collected data from 16 countries for the journal Thorax.
This suggested many others were well on the way to lung illness - and experts called for more money to help treat it.
The main threat from smoking is generally perceived to be lung cancer - but COPD is as big a killer, and just as hard to treat in many cases.
Thousands of new cases are diagnosed in the UK each year and lung specialists claim that the condition is relatively underfunded.
Doctors are interested to know at what stage in life clear signs of lung problems start to emerge.
The latest survey involved more than 18,000 adults, who were asked about symptoms such as persistent cough and phlegm.
Someone with these symptoms for three months a year would, under a new rating system for doctors, be regarded as at risk of developing COPD in the future.
One in 25 people actually had signs of the disease itself, with the air flow to their lungs restricted by accumulated damage.
However, even when these people were removed from the equation, a further one in nine (12%) fell into the "at risk" category.
Results varied between countries - from 7% in Australia to almost 24% in Spain. Women were also less likely to be affected than man.
In the UK 9.8% fell into this category.
Those picked out by the survey either as having the disease or being at risk of it were more likely to be moderate or heavy smokers.
They were also more likely than average to have been exposed to fumes or dust at work, or had more respiratory infections during childhood.
Dr Richard Russell, from the British Thoracic Society said: "COPD is now the only cause of death on the increase in the UK and is increasing in young people, yet it is a disease that continues to have a low profile and be ignored by policy makers, health professionals and members of the public.
"As a result, COPD is often left behind when money is allocated for treatment and services.
"At present a lack of NHS investment is jeopardising our chances to help patients; for example, in our local surgeries only 6 in 10 GPs have access to spirometers - vital equipment for the early diagnosis of lung disease.
"Meanwhile, in our hospitals we are facing a chronic shortage of lung specialists to manage patients.
"It is imperative that more funding is allocated at a local and national level to give GPs, nurses and lung specialists access to adequate training, equipment and treatment to diagnose and manage COPD effectively.
"Without this, we stand little chance of preventing this timebomb of lung disease from exploding."