Air pollution is the new tobacco says WHO Head

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The head of the World Health Organization has said that air pollution is the “new tobacco” and breathing polluted air is killing 7 million people annually and harming billions of the population additionally.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general has said, “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. No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.” He said that 90 percent of the world population suffers from toxic air and it affects children worse than adults.

Air pollution. Image Credit: Ssuaphotos / Shutterstock

Tedros said in his statement to the press, “Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet. This is a defining moment and we must scale up action to urgently respond to this challenge.” He was speaking about the first global conference on air pollution and health that the WHO is organizing at Geneva next week. The conference would include a “high-level action day” where nations from around the globe would pledge different ways to cut down on air pollution.

Dr Maria Neira, WHO director for public health and the environment in her statement said that children and infants are at a great risk because nearly 300 million children live in regions where the toxins in the air force them to breathe in poisonous fumes. These regions have six times higher air pollution than recommended permissible levels she said. She said, “Air pollution is affecting all of us but children are the most vulnerable of all. 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.” She explained that children exposed to these pollutants are at risk of respiratory ailments like asthma and also at risk of developing cancers and impaired intelligence.

According to Tedros, “A clean and healthy environment is the single most important precondition for ensuring good health. By cleaning up the air we breathe, we can prevent or at least reduce some of the greatest health risks.” “No person, group, city, country or region can solve the problem alone,” he said. “We need strong commitments and actions from everyone.”

The new figures of air pollution killing 7 million annually, has been cited to be a modest estimate. Experts have said that nearly 9 million are dying yearly due to particle pollution. Daniel Krewski at the University of Ottawa was one of the team members that came up with the report. He said, “This suggests that outdoor air pollution is an even more important risk factor for health than previously thought.” Research from George Washington University in Washington DC estimates that there are 33 million emergency department visits worldwide yearly, due to asthma that is triggered by air pollutants.

According to Neira, politicians who would fail to take action would face criticism in future. She said, “Politicians cannot say in 10 years from now, when citizens will start to take them to court for the harm they have suffered, that they didn’t know. We all know pollution is causing major damage and we all know it is something we can avoid. Now we need to react collectively and in a very dramatic and urgent way.”

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