Smokers pollute air on streets: study

Smoking on city streets significantly increases the amount of dangerous fine particulates in the air, according to new Otago University research.

A five-week study by the University of Otago in Wellington tested air quality around 284 smokers at the Lower Hutt shopping centre.

Testing air an average of 2.6 metres from smokers they recorded 70 per cent more fine particulates than when there were no smokers around.

The mean pollution level when stood next to a smoker at a bus stop was 16 times that when there was no smoker present.

Increased levels of fine particles in the air are linked to heart disease, altered lung function and lung cancer.

The findings come as Auckland Council considers a smoking ban in public places.

And one of the researchers, Dr George Thomson, said a growing number of cities are adopting smokefree policies for at least some outdoor parts of shopping areas. These cities include Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and many in California and Japan.

"Much of the impetus for these policies is to denormalise smoking further, and to decrease the example of smoking to children," Dr Thomson said. "Reducing visible smoking also makes it easier for smokers to quit and to stay quit."

Study co-author, Associate Professor Nick Wilson said city councils should do more to help protect the health of pedestrians, especially those in outdoor pavement seating, by implementing smokefree policies for shopping areas.

"They should be particularly concerned about protecting bar and restaurant workers who frequently have to breathe in second hand smoke when servicing outdoor tables with smokers," he said.

Other likely benefits of smokefree streets would be decreased cleaning costs, better public image, the reduction of second hand smoke drifting into shops and offices, and reducing the nuisance impact for others walking on footpaths.

The researchers found the results of this study were consistent with similar research on streets in downtown Wellington, even though there were fewer pedestrians and smokers in Lower Hutt.

The study has been published in the international journal Health & Place. The research was funded by the Cancer Society of New Zealand's Wellington Branch.


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