Craving a cigarette or seven? Breathe Delhi’s air
Breathing Delhi’s air is as bad as smoking 7.7 cigarettes a day, estimates a new smartphone app that calculates real-time equivalence between air pollution and cigarette smoking.
The smartphone application, launched last month in Paris, uses location specific data for PM2.5 — floating particulate matter, including organic and inorganic pollutants, with diameter of less than 2.5 microns that can enter the respiratory system — to calculate the quality of air in relation to cigarette smoke. The app uses a study by Berkeley Earth, California-based climate science analysts, to make the calculation.
Going by PM2.5 levels, the app ‘Sh**t! I Smoke’, available on Android and iOS portals for free, shows that inhaling the air in Delhi is equivalent to smoking 7.7 cigarettes a day.
The figure for Lucknow is 8, for Jaipur 7.3, for Bengaluru 0.7, for Chandigarh 6.1, for Ranchi 3.3, for Indore 3.9 and for Kolkata 3.5. Figures for other major Indian cities range between 2 and 7 cigarettes a day.
“PM2.5 particles are small enough to work their way deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, where they can trigger heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and asthma. Here is the rule of thumb: one cigarette per day is the rough equivalent of a PM2.5 level of 22μg/m3. Of course, unlike cigarette smoking, the pollution reaches every age group,” the study coauthored by Richard Mueller, physics professor, University of California, Berkeley, reads.
The World Health Organization (WHO), earlier this month, declared Delhi as the most polluted mega city in the world and Mumbai as the fourth-most polluted. It also found that 14 Indian cities were among the world’s 20 most polluted.
Based on studies across China, the study finds that Beijing has on average a PM2.5 level of 85μg/m3, equivalent to smoking four cigarettes. “The air pollution in New Delhi, India, in winter 2017 was 547μg/m3 (for PM2.5), equivalent to about 25 cigarettes each day.”
The app developers use real-time air pollution data from World Air Quality Index project (aqicn.org) as the main data source, geo-locate one’s phone through global positioning system (GPS), and connect it to the database, which shows the number of cigarettes smoked that day.
The app developers said people were only vaguely aware about the extent of air pollution in mega cities.
“Air-quality monitoring stations only provide numbers that are very specific to professionals who work on environmental issues. So when you make this conversion to cigarettes, it makes it easier for people to understand what they are dealing with, and the consequences air quality has in their daily lives,” said Paris-born app developer Amaury Martiny who developed the app with designer Marcelo Coelho from Brazil.
He added that when users open the app, they will learn how detrimental their local air is to their health, in a quantitative yet graspable way. “By checking the app regularly, similar to a weather app, citizens will know to take simple measures on bad air quality days, such as staying indoors or wearing a mask,” said Martiny. “Particulate pollution will only get worse in countries like India, if measures are not taken to curb it. Developing countries continue to emit a large number of pollutants from coal-burning plants or transportation vehicles, amid construction projects and other investments related to fast-paced industrialisation.”
However, officials from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said it was incorrect to compare cigarette smoking and the effects of air pollution. “Such studies, including the recent one by WHO, are incorrect as they do not have a standard method of collecting data from any of the regulatory agencies, they conclude on whatever data is available, and come out with their own conclusions. Neither is this data updated nor validated,” said A Sudhakar, member secretary, CPCB.
“The Union environment ministry has already issued a clarification to the WHO, and it will be simultaneously issued to all other international agencies, that from now on data sourcing should be done only from CPCB.”
There is, of course, little disagreement over the harmful effects Delhi’s air pollution has on citizens’ health.
“Besides respiratory distress, sustained exposure to air pollutants that are commonly seen in Delhi air, such as sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, also lowers immunity and raises the risk of viral and bacterial infections,” says Dr RK Singhal, director, department of medicine, BLK Super Speciality Hospital.