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Here Are the Places Where Air Pollution Shortens More Lives Than Smoking

Air pollution is taking more time off of people’s lives than tobacco smoking, and fossil fuels are the major culprit, according to a new study. Poor air quality is reducing global life expectancy by almost three years, the scientists with the German Center for Cardiovascular Research found. And many of those early deaths can be…

Here Are the Places Where Air Pollution Shortens More Lives Than Smoking

Air pollution is taking more time off of people’s lives than tobacco smoking, and fossil fuels are the major culprit, according to a new study.

Poor air quality is reducing global life expectancy by almost three years, the scientists with the German Center for Cardiovascular Research found. And many of those early deaths can be directly attributed to pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. If human-produced air pollution were to be cut back, 5.5 million of the approximately 8 million annual deaths attributable to poor air quality could be avoided every year. And the researchers found that if we stopped burning fossil fuels, life expectancy globally would increase by about a year.

But as things currently stand, the burning of fossil fuels is heavily contributing to poor air quality around the world, and the researchers found about 70 countries where air quality impacted life expectancy more than smoking. China, India, and Chad top the list.

“Our results show there is an ‘air pollution pandemic,’” Thomas Münzel of the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, told France24. “About two-thirds of premature deaths are attributable to human-made pollution, mainly from fossil fuel use.”

Their new study, published Tuesday, compares premature deaths that could be attributable to poor quality to other things that kill lots of people: HIV reduces global life expectancy by about eight months. Violence, by under four months. Parasites and vector-borne diseases take about seven months off of global life expectancy. Smoking takes about two years and two months off of global life expectancy.

Outdoor air quality shortens lives more than any of those factors: It’s reducing globally life expectancy by about two years and 11 months.

“The loss of life expectancy from air pollution is much higher than many other risk factors, and even higher than smoking,” co-author Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, told the Guardian. “That was quite unexpected, I must say.”

The reduction in life expectancy from poor air pollution varies significantly by country. Chad, in central Africa, has the worst air pollution in the world. There, the researchers estimate that poor air quality is reducing life expectancy by a full seven years and four months. That’s more than three times the global loss of life expectancy from smoking.

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