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Air pollution kills more people than smoking, according to latest research

Car exhaust fumes contribute to air pollution, diesel vehicles being the worst offenders
John von Radowitz (PA)

AIR pollution is a bigger global killer than smoking, according to a new study which suggests that 8.8 million deaths per year around the world can be attributed to dirty air, chiefly fine sooty particles from vehicle exhausts, factories and power plants.

Co-author Professor Thomas Munzel, of the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany, said: "Air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking, which the World Health Organisation estimates was responsible for an extra 7.2 million deaths in 2015."

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. 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.

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."

Cases of lung and cardiovascular disease were mainly caused by microscopic "PM 2.5" particles that become lodged in lungs and enter the bloodstream, said the researchers.

Diesel road vehicles are one of the biggest producers of particulate pollution in developed countries.

Writing in the European Heart Journal, the scientists called for more stringent curbs on particulate pollution.

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