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Street smoking increases risk

Smoking on city streets significantly increases the level of dangerous and unhealthy fine particulates in the ambient air around smokers.

Dr George Thomson: City councils should do more to help protect the health of pedestrians … by implementing smokefree policies for shopping areas.

Public health researchers from the University's Wellington campus measured air quality as they passed 284 people smoking on the footpaths in a Lower Hutt shopping centre.

They found when smokers were observed, at an average distance of 2.6 metres, there was an average 70 per cent more fine particulates in the air (PM2.5 or less than 2.5mm in diameter) than when there were no smokers.

When standing next to a smoker, the mean fine particulate pollution level was 16 times the background level, with a peak of 26 times the background level.

Study co-author Dr George Thomson says city councils should do more to help protect the health of pedestrians, and 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.”

Other benefits of smokefree streets would be decreased street cleaning costs from less cigarette-butt litter, a better public image, the reduction of second-hand smoke drifting into shops and offices, and reducing the normality of smoking.

Thomson says the problem of smoking on city streets is being addressed internationally with a growing number of cities successfully adopting smokefree policies for at least some outdoor parts of shopping areas.

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

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