One of the questions we frequently get is about how bad air quality actually is. This week, Dr. St Cyr, Beijing family doc and one of my favorite health bloggers in China (http://www.myhealthbeijing.com) wrote that breathing Beijing air is equivalent to smoking 1/6th of a cigarette.
Read the entire article here.
Dr. St. Cyr calculates this based on the PM from an average cigarette, volume of air breathed daily by an adult, and the average PM2.5 level in Beijing over the past year (121ug/m3). Based on the same numbers, and the fact that Shanghai air is a little less polluted on average than Beijing (typically 70-120 ug/m3), our equivalent would be like 1/8 of a cigarette.
But before you get all smug at your Beijing brethren (or protest that 1/8th of a cigarette is nothing), consider the following:
* Children are much more susceptible to PM and intake of other inhaled pollutants due to being lower to the ground, where settled particulates are easily stirred up, less developed lungs, and a faster breathing rate. So, for kids, this estimate understates the risk.
* Although useful as a theoretical calculation, I suspect that suddenly elevated levels of PM have a non-linear impact on our health and well-being. This is based on the times (like a few weekends ago), when PM2.5 levels shot to 400+ for several days. Although this would theoretically only be a half cigarette based on these calculations, many people (myself included), felt a significant impact on our health not usually associated with just cigarette smoke. I’ve inhaled more than my share of cigarettes, and when PM levels are “crazy high”, I feel much worse.