New study: air pollution is deadlier than cigarette smoke or AIDS

A new study from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) looks at the impact of air pollution on human life expectancies — and it turns out, it may be doing more damage, on average, then a lifetime of cigarette smoking, or even HIV/AIDS. The report specifically notes that its estimates also point out direct causation, rather than just correlation.

As CNBC summed up the findings:

The Air Quality Life Index, or AQLI, finds that taken together, air pollution takes a collective 17 billion years of life, and reducing air pollution to meet international health guidelines would increase the global average life expectancy from roughly 72 to 74.2 years

Firsthand cigarette smoke reduces life expectancy by 1.9 years, on average, according to the report. Alcohol and drug use reduce life expectancy by nine months on average, unsafe water and sanitation reduce expectancy by seven months, HIV and AIDS reduce life expectancy by four months, malaria reduces average life by three months, and conflict and terrorism reduce life expectancy by seven days, the report said.

The report also notes that these dire effects can be seen in places like California and throughout South Asia:

Three-quarters of air pollution's impact on global life expectancy occurs in just six countries, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Indonesia, where people lose one to more than six years off their lives because of the air they breathe.


 In Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, the AQLI data reveal that residents are expected to lose about 5 years off their lives on average if the current high levels of pollution persist, and more in the most polluted regions—accounting for more than half of the total life years lost globally due to pollution.

While China was included in that list, the Chinese government has put in a concerted effort to reduce air pollution—and according to the report, researchers can already see the difference:

Although the challenge of reducing air pollution across the world may seem daunting, China has had remarkable success, reducing pollution by 42.3 percent since 2013, the year before the country began a "war against pollution." Due to these improvements, the average Chinese citizen can expect to live 2.2 years longer, provided the reductions are sustained. However, the pollution in China is still six times higher than the WHO guideline, taking 2.5 years off life expectancy.

Air Pollution and its Threat to Health are Unequally Spread Throughout the World, and so are the Opportunities to Combat it [Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago]

Air pollution takes 2 years off average global life expectancy, more than smoking or alcohol [Catherine Clifford / CNBC]