Deadly air pollution kills more people per year than smoking, scientists claim

Air pollution
Air pollution is a bigger global killer than smoking, research has shown. [Image: Courtesy]

Air pollution is a bigger global killer than smoking, research has shown.

A new study suggests that 8.8 million deaths per year around the world can be attributed to dirty air, chiefly fine sooty particles pouring out of vehicle exhausts, factories and power plants.

Co-author Professor Thomas Munzel, from the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany, said: "To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates was responsible for an extra 7.2 million deaths in 2015.

"Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not."

In Europe alone the researchers put the excess death toll figure at 790,000, twice the previous estimate.

Air pollution was thought to have caused 64,000 deaths in the UK in 2015, including 17,000 fatal cases of heart and artery disease.

More than 29,000 other British deaths linked to air pollution were due to a range of conditions such as cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

Average life expectancy was reduced by 1.5 years among people in the UK dying as a result of air pollution, according to the study.

However, Britons were not as badly affected as some of their European neighbours.

In Germany, air pollution was said to have been responsible for an extra 124,000 deaths in 2015 and 2.4 years of lost life expectancy.

During the same year an estimated 81,000 people were killed by air pollution in Italy, 67,000 in France and 58,000 in Poland.

Prof Munzel added: "The number of deaths from cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to air pollution is much higher than expected.

"In Europe alone, the excess number of deaths is nearly 800,000 a year and each of these deaths represents an average reduction in life expectancy of more than two years."

The complex study involved computer simulations of interacting natural and man-made chemicals combined with new information about population density, disease risk factors, and causes of death.

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