Air pollution is not 'the new smoking': Comparing the disease burden of air pollution and smoking across the globe, 1990-2017

Wayne Gao, Mattia Sanna, Marita Hefler, Chi Pang Wen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Air pollution has been labelled the 'new smoking', with news articles bearing titles such as 'If You Live in a Big City You Already Smoke Every Day' and 'The Air Is So Bad in These Cities, You May As Well Be Smoking'. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, highlighted this attention-catching comparison, saying, 'The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the 'new tobacco' - the toxic air that billions breathe every day' and 'Globally, with smoking on the decline, air pollution now causes more deaths annually than tobacco' at the First Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in 2018. The suggestion that the world has turned the corner on tobacco control and the reference to air pollution as the 'new smoking' raise a number of concerns. We generate outputs from GBD Compare (the online data visualisation tool of the Global Burden of Diseases and Injuries (GBD) Study) to demonstrate historical disease burden trends in terms of disability-adjusted life years and age-standardised mortality attributable to air pollution and tobacco use from 1990 to 2017 across the globe. We find that the disease burden caused by ambient air pollution declined significantly faster than the burden caused by tobacco use. We conclude that the world is still far from turning the corner on the tobacco endemic. Further, the suggestion that actual smoking is as bad as air pollution is not only inaccurate but also potentially dangerous to public health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715-718
Number of pages4
JournalTobacco Control
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020


  • ambient air pollution
  • attributable deaths
  • new smoking
  • tobacco control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Air pollution is not 'the new smoking': Comparing the disease burden of air pollution and smoking across the globe, 1990-2017'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this