William Eichler 05 December 2019

Air pollution like smoking 150 cigarettes a year, charity warns

People living in areas that have the highest levels of air pollution have an increased risk of death that is equivalent to smoking over 150 cigarettes a year, a charity has warned.

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from cars and other sources of pollution has a detrimental effect to heart health, making existing conditions worse, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Every year around 11,000 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths in the UK are attributable to particulate matter air pollution.

The UK currently subscribes to EU limits on levels of PM2.5. However, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines on air pollution are considered to be more stringent.

Warning that air pollution can be as harmful as smoking, the British Heart Foundation has urged the next Government to adopt the WHO limits on PM2.5, which the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) said in July 2019 would be ‘technically feasible’.

‘Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves,’ said Jacob West, the executive director of Healthcare Innovation.

‘Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.

‘Legislation was passed over a decade ago to protect people from passive smoke, and similarly decisive must be taken to protect people from air pollution.

‘The last Government accepted that it is possible to implement tougher WHO air pollution limits, and the next Government must now do so protect the health of the nation.’

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