Is Breathing the New Smoking?


air, pollution“Research reveals that air pollution in the United States and Europe is equal in negative health effects to smoking 0.4 to 1.6 cigarettes per day. David McNew/Getty Images

Do you know how many cigarettes you’d have to smoke to equal the negative health effects of the contaminants around you? In major cities around the globe, air pollution has become so bad that breathing has literally become the new smoking in some urban areas.

According to a Feb. 3, 2018 report by The Lancet Commission on Public Health, in 2015, air pollution was responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths worldwide from illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, COPD and lung cancer. The Lancet study found that in 2015 more than 150,000 deaths in the United States could be attributed to air pollution.

This is where Shoot! I Smoke comes into this story. It’s a free and opensource app that demonstrates the effect of urban air on our health. Brazilian designer Marcelo Coelho and French developer Amaury Martiny co-created the app after they read an August 2015 article that analyzed air pollution and its equivalent to cigarette smoking.

The article, published in Beijing by Berkeley Earth to discuss air pollution in China, presents a mathematical model that compares smoking-related deaths to levels of a microscopic particle called PM2.5 — which after combustion becomes a hazardous and cancerous pollutant. Co-written by Richard A. Muller, Ph.D., physics professor at University of California, Berkeley and Elizabeth A. Muller, co-founder and executive director of Berkeley Earth, the study concluded that air pollution is the most catastrophic environmental hazard in the world today — killing more people worldwide than AIDS, malaria, diabetes or tuberculosis.

The research revealed that air pollution in the United States and Europe is equal in negative health effects to smoking 0.4 to 1.6 cigarettes per day. And in China, on bad days, the detrimental health effects of air pollution is equal to the damage done by smoking three packs — or 60 cigarettes per day — by every man, woman and child.

The Shoot! I Smoke app allows you to see in real-time just how contaminated the air around you really is. And it allows you to look at pollution all over the planet to see how many virtual cigarettes your fellow citizens of the world are "smoking" against their will just by stepping outside and breathing the air. For instance, on July 4, 2018, the app indicated that if you were in Beijing, China, you smoked 7.6 cigarettes. If you were in New Delhi, India you smoked 6.9 cigarettes. And if you were in Los Angeles, you smoked the equivalent of 2.

Download the Shoot! I Smoke app for android or iPhone from the App Store, Google Play Store or here to find out how many cigarettes you "smoke" where you live.

Now That’s Counterintuitive

Research suggests that air pollution has an unanticipated outcome of cooling the climate, concealing the extent of global warming thus far. That means that a worldwide initiative to clean up the air may cause an increase in global warming that could push mother Earth another half a degree into the danger zone.


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