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Stopping our cities smoking

Air pollution is a critical issue for public health providers

If you ever want a little bit of good news about health, have a look at smoking rates. Indicators are moving the right way almost everywhere. The proportion of the population who are now smokers is now below 15% for the first time, and there are one million fewer smokers than there were. Cigarette-related deaths remain stubbornly high (take a snapshot of smoking habits in any given year, and you will see its Thanatic mirror in death rates two decades later), but even these have started to drop below the 80,000 mark.

However, even as we get to grips with this particular problem, our cities have their own passive smoking issue, according to a new report from Public Health England (PHE), Improving Outdoor Air Quality and Health. Air pollution is currently killing around 30,000 people a year, from lung cancer, stroke, heart disease… pretty much the same things that kill smokers. This comes on the back of a report from last summer which revealed that record numbers are now dying of asthma, on the back of pollution reaching critical levels

PHE has a list of recommendations to try to tackle this, most eye catching is to stop cars idling outside schools, but verging ambitiously into the area of town planning and transport policy. Overreaching? I don’t think so, this is the future of thinking about health.

There is no point in waiting until a patient reaches a hospital bed to tackle an issue. Health policy needs to begin in our homes, workplaces and on our commutes to work out what makes people ill and how we can stop it. Clean air around schools seems like the perfect start.

Mike Shallcross, editor, Independent Nurse