Air Clean Up

  • Will a Smoking Ban Reduce Pollution Levels?

Will a Smoking Ban Reduce Pollution Levels?

Jan 13 2019 Read 1498 Times

At the beginning of the year, Singapore implemented a smoking ban along a two-mile stretch of one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city-state, Orchard Road. The measure has been taken in order to try and curtail air pollution and boost public health, since the former consistently has a significant impact on the latter in countries all around the globe.

However well-intentioned the ban might be, critics are claiming that it will not address the main causes of poor air quality, which include the emissions from vehicular traffic, power plants and buildings both domestic and commercial. What’s more, some spectators are concerned that the policy may even have a detrimental impact on the city’s airways by concentrating the pollution rather than dispersing it.

Par for the Singaporean course

Rather than an outright ban, the measure will force smokers to congregate in 40 specific smoking zones, each placed 100m to 200m apart. It may sound outlandish to the rest of the world, but for a city-state which bans the sale of chewing gum, prohibits feeding pigeons and fines those who do not flush in a public toilet, it’s pretty much par for the course.

The unusual thing about this law, however, is its rather incoherent approach. By corralling smokers into confined areas, the authorities run the risk that the smoke will simply form concentrated plumes rather than dispersing easily. This phenomenon could be exacerbated by the surrounding architecture, as well; wind flow is essential to move toxins on, so in street canyons such a proposal could be disastrous and actually worsen the problem.

Ignoring the bigger picture

The main problem with the Singaporean legislation is that it seeks to improve air quality by addressing a minor contributing factor; it’s something like trying to extinguish the fire which has engulfed a whole building by tossing a bucket of water into one window. It remains to be seen whether limiting smokers may improve ground-level air quality, but it won’t do the slightest to alleviate the pollution generated by bigger sources.

The biggest catalyst for the poor air quality in Singapore is most certainly the half-a-million cars on the city’s streets. However, there is no mention of improving air quality by reducing transport-related pollution from the government, meaning that the smoking ban is likely to have a negligible (and possibly detrimental) impact on urban air quality.

An integrated approach

As with any city in the world, flexibility is the key to solving air pollution abatement challenges in Singapore. The smoking ban, if managed properly, could help to remove the toxic smoke from cigarettes from the atmosphere, but it will take a more rounded approach to make a real dent in the issue.

“There needs to be an integrated approach, which reconfigures the entire design of each streetscape across the city, to encourage the mixing, dispersion and dilution of pollutants and maximise the quality of the local environment, with an emphasis on green infrastructure and separating people from pollutant sources,” explains John Bryson, professor at the University of Birmingham in the UK. “Any effective air quality policy must also encourage the use of environmentally friendly public transport, and the shift towards electric vehicles.”

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