Air Pollution is the ‘New Tobacco’, Warns WHO

Air pollution is the ‘new tobacco’, the head of the World Health Organisation has warned, saying the simple act of breathing is killing seven million people a year and harming billions more.

Over 90 per cent of the world’s population suffers toxic air and research is increasingly revealing the profound impacts on the health of people, especially children.

“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general.

“No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.”

“Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet,” Tedros said, in an article published in The Guardian.

“This is a defining moment and we must scale up action to urgently respond to this challenge.”

“This is a defining moment and we must scale up action to urgently respond to this challenge.”

Children and babies’ developing bodies are most at risk from toxic air, said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director for public health and the environment, with 300 million living in places where toxic fumes are six times above international guidelines.

“Air pollution is affecting all of us but children are the most vulnerable of all,” she said, adding, “we have to ask what are we doing to our children, and the answer I am afraid is shockingly clear: we are polluting their future, and this is very worrying for all us.”

The WHO is working with health professionals not only to help their patients, but also to give them the skills and evidence to advocate for health in policy decisions such as moving away from fossil-fuel-powered energy and transport.

Globally, with smoking on the decline, air pollution now causes more deaths annually than tobacco.

However, researchers think the harm known to be caused by air pollution, such as heart attacks and lung disease, is only “the tip of the iceberg”.

The figure of seven million early deaths is certain to be an underestimate, as it only includes particle pollution and the five most firmly linked causes of death.

Early estimates using improved models indicate a total figure of nine million from particle pollution.

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