Air Clean Up

  • Is Air Pollution the 'New Tobacco'?

Is Air Pollution the 'New Tobacco'?

Jan 25 2019 Read 806 Times

The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has claimed that air pollution is the “new tobacco” and represents the next great crisis facing public health worldwide. Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed to the seven million people killed due to exposure to poor air quality every year and called on politicians to take action immediately.

While Tedros praised global progress on kicking the smoking habit and reducing tobacco consumption, he pointed out that air pollution has overtaken tobacco in terms of global deaths and said that “a smog of complacency pervades the planet” regarding this new threat. He also said that “this is a defining moment and we must scale up action to urgently respond to this challenge.”

Tip of the iceberg

According to recent research from the WHO, 91% of the world’s population live in areas which suffer from dangerously high levels of pollution. This includes 300 million people who are regularly exposed to contaminants over six times the thresholds set by the WHO, resulting in at least seven million premature deaths each year.

What’s more, experts say that this estimate is actually far lower than the actual figure. That’s because those stats only take into account particle pollution (with a special focus on particulate matter 2.5, or PM2.5) but neglects other forms of contamination. What’s more, only fatalities associated with the five most closely linked causes of death are taken into account, leading experts to speculate that the real figure is closer to nine million.

Inside and out

While such theories suggest that outdoor pollution may be far more dangerous than previously believed, it’s also thought that indoor air pollution is an even bigger threat. Studies have shown that the air inside a family home can be as much as five times more polluted than that found outside it, largely because the confined nature of buildings means there is nowhere for contaminants to disperse once they have gained access.

Clearly, it will take a concerted effort on the part of individuals, companies and governments alike to rethink their habits and do their bit to reduce their carbon footprint. Only in this way will the dire situation surrounding air quality all over the world be brought under control.

Ignorance no longer an excuse

Of course, those at the top of the pyramid must shoulder a significant proportion of the blame. In the UK, for example, the incumbent Conservative government have made slow progress on improving air quality and reducing transport-related pollution, despite having been taken to court on no less than three occasions by environmental law firm ClientEarth over their negligence.

“Politicians cannot say in 10 years from now, when citizens will start to take them to court for the harm they have suffered, that they didn’t know,” explained Dr Maria Neira, who works as director for public health and environment for the WHO. “We all know pollution is causing major damage and we all know it is something we can avoid. Now we need to react collectively and in a very dramatic and urgent way.”

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