Living in some of the UK’s most polluted towns and cities can harm your health as much as smoking up to 160 cigarettes a year.
Campaigners have said pollution is now a ‘public health emergency’ and urged the government to enforce stricter rules to bring it down.
Analysis by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) showed that the air quality in inner city London is four times as bad as some Scottish islands.
The worst place was deemed to be Newham in east London, where residents are breathing in toxins equivalent to smoking 159 cigarettes a year.
The cleanest is the Outer Hebrides where locals breathe in the equivalent of 40.
Worst air quality in London and equivalent in cigarettes
Kensington and Chelsea 156
Waltham Forest 156
Particles of pollution can seep into the body and raise the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
BHF say pollution is behind 11,000 fatal heart disease deaths and strokes each year in the UK.
High levels of pollution have also been linked to fatal asthma attacks plus other lung conditions and some cancers.
BHF expert Jacob West said: ‘Air pollution is a major public health emergency and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.
‘Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.
‘As these figures show, the effect of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system is profound, and we have no choice over the air we breathe in the places we live.
‘Legislation was passed over a decade ago to protect people from passive smoke, and similarly decisive must be taken to protect people from air pollution.’
Worst air quality outside London and equivalent in cigarettes
BHF made their calculations by measuring exposure to fine particulate matter – known as PM2.5 particles – which are the smallest measurable types of air pollution.
PM2.5 particulate matter comes from dust, exhaust fumes and smoke from power plants, fires or industrial works.
It can become toxic when inhaled and can cause or worsen killer health conditions.
University of Edinburgh scientist Mark Miller told Mail Online: ‘It is now recognised that air pollution affects almost all organs of the body and has a staggering detrimental effect on our health.
‘Ultimately, there is no safe level of air pollution but adopting stricter limits will be crucial to ensure that action is taken to effectively reduce air pollution.’
Best air quality in the UK and equivalent in cigarettes
Outer Hebrides 40
Shetland Islands 43
Scottish Highlands 45
Argyll and Bute 48
The UK comfortably meets EU limits for fine particulate matter – some 25 micrograms per metre cubed.
BHF wants the next government to urgently introduce tougher World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits, which are set at 10 micrograms per metre cubed.
All 391 of the areas tested by BHF met EU standards but 79 failed the tougher WHO limits.
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