Recent research, published in the European Heart Journal, suggests that air pollution now kills more people than cigarettes – a bold claim and, if true, a sad one. After all, people choose to smoke cigarettes, but no one decides to breathe in polluted air at the bus stop or on their morning jog.

The study was led by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and concluded that air pollution is responsible for around 9 million premature deaths every year – double previous estimates, which had put global deaths attributed to air pollution at closer to 4.5 million.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Study co-author Professor Thomas Münzel issued this statement:

“To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking, which the World Health Organization estimates was responsible for an extra 7.2 million deaths in 2015. …Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not.”

The new statistics could vary from previous estimates because the recent study used a new, multi-faceted method that combined data on the levels of pollution, the health impacts of pollution, and factors such as population density, age, and healthcare quality.

It mainly looked at the effects of PM2.5 particles, microscopic particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the circulatory system. The most dangerous PM2.5 particles are emitted during fuel combustion – vehicle exhausts, wood burning, industrialized agriculture, and the like.

Image Credit: Pixabay

The findings caused the research team to suggest the WHO change their guidelines as far as safe PM 2.5 levels.

Between 40-80% of pollution-related deaths in Europe were related to cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and stroke – air pollution can affect your heart and blood circulation in numerous ways, including damaging blood vessel walls and disrupting normal electrical functioning of your heart.

“Since most of the particulate matter and other air pollutants in Europe come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources for generating energy urgently,” said Professor Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. “When we use clean, renewable energy, we are no just fulfilling the Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates in Europe by up to 55 percent.”

Add this study to the growing list of research that suggests the powers-that-be need to do something about carbon emissions, and fast.