Living in polluted city 'as bad as smoking 150 cigarettes a year'

Jacob Jarvis
The risk of dying from long-term exposure to London's toxic air has risen for a second year running: PA

Living in the UK's most polluted cities and towns increases the risk of an early death by the equivalent of smoking 150 cigarettes a year, a charity has warned.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is calling for air pollution to be declared "a public health emergency".

Data from the charity shows people living in the Newham, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Islington areas of London are the worst hit by air pollution.

In those places it is the equivalent to smoking more than 150 cigarettes a year on average.

The risks of pollution have been likened to smoking (PA)

Those in Waltham Forest, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham, Lambeth and Southwark in London are also badly affected.

While people in Slough, Dartford, Portsmouth, Medway, Luton, Gravesham and Thurrock also suffer due to the issue.

The BHF wants the next government to urgently introduce tougher World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits.

Particles in the air over the city are causing health problems (Unsplash)

Current EU limits - which the UK meets - for fine particulate matter are 25 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average.

While the WHO limits are tougher - at 10 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average.

The BHF said the limit allowed by the EU laws can have a "seriously detrimental effect to heart health", increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke and making existing health problems worse.

Around 11,000 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths each year in the UK are caused by particulate matter air pollution, it says.

Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, said: "Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.

"Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.

"As these figures show, the effect of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system is profound, and we have no choice over the air we breathe in the places we live.

"Legislation was passed over a decade ago to protect people from passive smoke, and similarly decisive must be taken to protect people from air pollution.

"The last government accepted that it is possible to implement tougher WHO air pollution limits, and the next government must now do so protect the health of the nation."

Reporting by PA.

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