The aim of asthma treatment is optimal disease control. Poor asthma control results in considerable patient morbidity, as well as contributing to the considerable burden placed by the disease on healthcare budgets. There is a need for costs to be carefully scrutinised, with the switching of patients to inhaler devices with lower acquisition costs likely to be increasingly considered. However, before such practice becomes widespread, it is important to establish whether or not this could adversely impact on patients and the level of disease control. For approval to have been given, all marketed inhalers must have satisfied current regulatory requirements for devices. Full preclinical and clinical development programmes are not required when application is made for authorisation to market a new inhaler containing an existing chemical entity, although clinical equivalence testing must be used. Both beneficial and adverse effects should be tested, and the limits of equivalence must be clearly defined, based on therapeutic relevance. It should be noted that equivalence studies are invalid when the end point is not responding (i.e. at the top of the dose-response curve) and when equivalence limits approach or are equal to the magnitude of the drug effect. Approval on the basis of regulations designed to safeguard quality of dry powder inhalers does not mean that devices are interchangeable. When using an inhaler, there are many stages between the patient and the therapeutic effect, involving device design, pharmaceutical performance and patient behaviour. Regulations governing new devices cover only a few of the many factors affecting disease control. Furthermore, clinical trials to assess equivalence may not take into account factors in patient behaviour or variations in patient inhaler technique that may affect use of devices in real-life situations. When assessing the consequences of interchangeable use of dry powder inhalers on healthcare costs, it is important to ensure that the acquisition cost of the devices is not the only cost considered. Other costs that should be considered include the cost of time spent demonstrating to the patient how to use the new device, the cost of additional physician visits to address patient concerns and the management costs if disease control is adversely affected.