Equivalency between air pollution and smoking cigarettes


Anggid Primastiti





English / Indonesia

The science is unequivocal: air pollution is arguably the world's greatest environmental disaster nowadays. Air pollution, particularly invisible airborne particle pollution known as PM2.5, raises the risk of serious illness and has the potential to kill. Even very low levels contribute to death from heart and lung diseases. More people die from air pollution worldwide each year than from AIDS, malaria, diabetes, or tuberculosis combined.

Dr. Richard Muller, a physicist and climate researcher at the University of California, develops the tobacco analogy with air pollution exposure. He began by doing comparative calculations.

According to the US Center for Disease Control, 480,000 people die in the United States each year from smoking. Dr. Richard Muller gave a rough estimate that the number of cigarette buyers in the United States was 350 billion. Let's calculate the death ratio!

The ratio of deaths from smoking:

This shows that there are 1.37 deaths for every million cigarettes smoked. In other words, 1 cigarette causes 1.37 x 10-6 deaths.

For the US and Europe, inhaling air pollution = smoking 0.4 to 1.6 cigarettes per day

According to the EPA, the average level of air pollution in the United States in 2013 was 9.0 μg/m3. This equates to 0.41 cigarettes per person per day in the United States. According to Richard Muller’s rough calculation, and taking into account the US population, that average exposure would result in 66,000 deaths per year in the US.

An Europe's Environment Commissioner stated that pollution caused 400,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2010. This is equivalent to 508 million EU citizens smoking 1.6 cigarettes per day.

For China, inhaling 22 μg/m3 of PM2.5 = smoking 1 cigarette per day

In China, the statistics are much worse. It has been shown that 1,600,000 people in China die every year from an average exposure of 52 μg/m3 of PM2.5. If there are 1.37 x 10-6 deaths per cigarette, these 1,600,000 people die per 1.1 trillion cigarettes.

With a population of 1.35 billion people, China consumes the equivalent of roughly 2.4 cigarettes per day.

As previously mentioned, the average Chinese inhales 52 μg/m
3 of air pollution. That is, inhaling 52 μg/m3 of air pollution is the same as smoking 2.4 cigarettes per day.

So, inhaling 22 μg/m3 of PM2.5 = smoking 1 cigarette per day

With this comparison, let's compare the average concentration of PM2.5 with cigarettes in other cities in China!

How Can We Protect Ourselves?

Reflecting on the study, we must immediately take precautions to prevent exposure to deadly PM2.5. This is especially true for pregnant women, babies, children, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic medical conditions. This may seem difficult if you live in heavy traffic or near a polluting factory, but you can follow these tips! 

Wear your facemask

Always use your facemask when the outdoor air quality is bad. Facemasks (particularly respirator masks) can shield you from airborne pollutants and prevent you from breathing them in when worn properly. There are actually brands of masks designed for exercise as well – internationally Respro, locally Zulu.

Check the air quality in your area

Paying attention to air quality is a great way to start avoiding air pollution. You can use the Nafas application to keep updated with air quality in your area. To keep better informed about the air quality in your area, don’t forget to follow any location by pressing “❤️” and click on “Set Air Quality Alerts” to receive information about when air quality levels go above a certain amount.

Activate your air purifier during indoor activities

You can consider using an air purifier, such as Aria Pure40, to optimize indoor air quality. Aria Pure40 will keep your room air quality clean, safe, and healthy. With its high-quality HEPA air filters, Aria Pure40 can lower airborne particles and protect your home from cigarette smoke, mold, dust, and other bad particles. – click here to maximize your Aria Pure40.


3 Packs a day: Killer Air in Shenyang. Berkeley Earth. http://berkeleyearth.org/3-packs-a-day-killer-air-in-shenyang/ 

Air Pollution and Cigarette Equivalence. Berkeley Earth. http://berkeleyearth.org/air-pollution-and-cigarette-equivalence/