THE air pollution that city dwellers are exposed to is as bad for the health as smoking a packet of cigarettes a day, a shock report warns.
Breathing in fumes from traffic, planes, power plants and industry on a long-term, regular basis is causing growing numbers of urban non-smokers to develop chronic lung disease, experts say.
Just a decade of city living was found to do the same damage as 29 years of puffing on 20 cigarettes daily.
The findings were hailed last night by Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, who blames pollution for the death of her daughter Ella after she had an asthma attack aged nine in 2013.
The youngster from Lewisham in south-east London lived near the South Circular Road, which has been the subject of protests about the health risks it poses. Ms Kissi-Debrah told Metro: ‘People should be worried. This study really demonstrates how more and more people who don’t even smoke are dying from these kinds of conditions — and I would put my daughter in that category.
‘When she died, her lungs looked like she was a smoker — but she was just nine years old.
‘Whether it’s sulphur, ozone or diesel, studies like this show that exposure to air pollution is lethal.’
The mum, who founded the Ella Roberta Family Foundation in her daughter’s memory, has won a legal battle for a second inquest to be held into her death. It will examine whether pollution contributed. A link between air pollution and heart and lung problems has been demonstrated before.
But the team from the University of Washington in Seattle believe they are the first to comprehensively show it causes emphysema.
Strongly linked to smoking, the disease raises the risk of death and results in wheezing, coughing and breathlessness. CT scans were used in the study to track the health of 7,000 45- to 84-year-olds in six US cities from 2000 to last year.
A government spokesperson said last night: ‘We know the impact air pollution has on UK communities, which is why we are stepping up the pace and taking urgent action.’