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What is a Generic Inhaler?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

A generic inhaler is a handheld device which propels anti-inflammatory medication into constricted airways and which, because it is unpatented, tends to be significantly cheaper than its name-brand counterparts. As of 1 January 2009, generic inhalers have been removed from the US market due to their ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) content. Drug patent laws prohibit the release of a CFC-free generic inhaler on the US market until 2012 or later. While the elimination of CFC inhalers represents a positive step for US environmental law, it poses difficulties for those with respiratory conditions, who must purchase often-expensive name-brand inhalers.

As with all generic drugs, while the active ingredients contained in a generic inhaler are the same as those contained in name-brand products, it is not patented. It thus tends to be sold at a cheaper price than name-brand inhalers. In the past, generic inhalers have provided an affordable option to those with respiratory conditions and limited incomes.

A generic inhaler.
A generic inhaler.

All generic inhalers formerly available on the US market, however, contained the environmentally damaging CFC, an ingredient which acted to propel the inhaler’s medicinal contents into the lungs. In accordance with a 2005 law, CFC-containing inhalers were removed from the US market as of 1 January 2009. Brand-name drug manufacturers developed CFC-free inhalers to replace their now-banned products. Instead of CFC, these new inhalers use the less-damaging hydrofluoroalkane (HFA) as a propellant. Due to patent laws, however, generic drug companies cannot introduce a generic HFA inhaler until 2012 or later.

An inhaler is used to address breathing issues.
An inhaler is used to address breathing issues.

From an ecological perspective, the CFC inhaler ban is a positive step for US environmental law. In fact, the ban represents just one part of a larger effort by the US to phase out the nation’s use of substances which deplete the ozone layer. This effort is being made in accordance with the Montreal Protocol, a treaty created in 1987 to protect the ozone layer by eliminating global dependency on destructive substances.

Generic inhalers are significantly cheaper than name-brand inhalers.
Generic inhalers are significantly cheaper than name-brand inhalers.

In spite of these environmental benefits, however, the removal of the generic inhaler from US markets has proved problematic for many who suffer from respiratory conditions. Until the patent for brand-name HFA inhalers expires — an event not expected to transpire until 2012 or later — drug companies cannot begin to produce generic versions of the devices. Therefore, as of September 2010, inhaler users have no option but to purchase name-brand HFA inhalers, which are estimated to cost a minimum of $20 US Dollars (USD) more than the sales price of generic CFC devices at the time of their removal from the market.

Discussion Comments


@literally45-- I don't know what kind of inhaler your roommate is using. But I use an albuterol inhaler for my asthma and it costs a lot! Way more than what I would be paying for a generic. I don't think that this is really fair considering that asthma is a serious condition that can be very dangerous if it is not treated properly and on time. I didn't choose to have asthma and I expect the government and drug manufacturers to do more to make inhalers more affordable. Practically every other drug has a generic alternative and inhalers need to as well.


@donasmrs-- The law isn't silly at all. There weren't may products on the market with chlorofluorocarbon to begin with and I'm sure that this law wouldn't have been enforced if policymakers were absolutely sure that the advantages of removing inhalers from the market outweigh the disadvantages.

I don't think that it will be long before generic inhalers hit the market once again. And if I'm not wrong, there has also been a positive shift with inhalers becoming more affordable in general. My roommate uses a powder asthma inhaler and I know hers doesn't cost all that much.

Ultimately, this move in 2009 was good both for consumers and for the environment.


I used to use a generic inhaler before they were removed from the market. I honestly felt that it was a little silly because I'm sure that there are many other pollutants out there that damage the ozone layer more than asthma inhalers. Many asthma patients have been disservices as a result, including myself.

I can't wait for the patent to expire so that we have access to generic inhalers again. I was saving quite a bit of money by buying generic inhalers.

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    • A generic inhaler.
      By: alctxphoto
      A generic inhaler.
    • An inhaler is used to address breathing issues.
      By: perfectmatch
      An inhaler is used to address breathing issues.
    • Generic inhalers are significantly cheaper than name-brand inhalers.
      By: Olga D. van de Veer
      Generic inhalers are significantly cheaper than name-brand inhalers.