Air pollution in worst hit areas of Wales as deadly as smoking around 100 cigarettes each year, charity warns

People living in areas of Wales worst affected by air pollution have an increased risk of death that is the equivalent to smoking around 100 cigarettes a year, BHF Cymru has warned.

The new analysis of data by the BHF highlights that Cardiff has the highest average daily level of air pollution out of all local authorities in Wales. People living in Cardiff have an increased risk of death that is on average equivalent to smoking 105 cigarettes a year.

This is closely followed by Newport, where people have an increased risk of death that is equivalent to smoking 102 cigarettes a year. The other worst offenders for air pollution in the region are Torfaen (equivalent to 94 cigarettes a year), Caerphilly (equivalent to 93 cigarettes a year) and Monmouthshire (equivalent to 91 cigarettes a year).2

The new figures come as the BHF urges the next UK government to urgently adopt into law tougher World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution limits.

The UK currently subscribes to EU limits on levels of fine particulate matter called PM2.5, which are not as stringent as those set by the WHO. This fine particulate matter is the most dangerous kind of air pollution, finding its way into the circulatory system when inhaled.

BHF research has shown that PM2.5 can have a seriously detrimental effect to heart health, making existing conditions worse, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.3

Every year around 670 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths in Wales are attributed to particulate matter air pollution.4

In July 2019, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) published findings which found that implementing WHO guidelines on air pollution is “technically feasible”.

BHF Cymru has been petitioning the Welsh Government for over a year to introduce a Clean Air Act in Wales and adopt WHO guidelines on air pollution.

Adam Fletcher, Head of BHF Cymru said:

“Air pollution is a major public health emergency, and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves. Unless we take radical measures now to curb air pollution, in the future we will look back on this period of inaction with shame.

“As these figures show, the effect of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system is profound, and we have no choice over the air we breathe in the places we live. We’re really concerned that the UK and Welsh Governments are not taking decisive action to protect people from air pollution.”

Before parliament was dissolved for the general election, the Westminster government introduced the Environment Bill, which set out a commitment to binding targets for fine particulate matter, but did not commit to adopting World Health Organization guideline limits.

The BHF says such a commitment is a crucial step in protecting the nation’s heart health. Binding 2030 targets, set in law, will ensure effective action to reduce air pollution and the risk it poses to the nation’s heart and circulatory health.



(1)  Average urban background estimated pollution levels for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2017 in the five most polluted local authorities in Wales – 7.6 microgrammes per day. Source:  BHF estimates by Welsh local authority; analysis using Defra model

 One cigarette is equivalent to 28.84 microgrammes of particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) – national estimate – BHF (2019) analysis of Global Burden of Disease mortality estimates for the UK, Defra air pollution data and ONS smoking statistics (workings are available on request).

7.6 divided by 28.84 gives a daily exposure equivalent to 0.27 cigarettes, which is then multiplied out for an annual figure of 97 cigarettes.

(2)  Top five local authorities in Wales with highest average daily level of air pollution (PM 2.5)

Cardiff / Caerdydd – 8.3

Newport / Casnewydd – 8.0

Torfaen  – 7.4

Caerphilly / Caerffili – 7.3

Monmouthshire / Sir Fyrnwy – 7.1

Source: BHF estimates by Welsh local authority; analysis using Defra model

(3) Newby, D.E et al. 2014 Expert position paper on air pollution and cardiovascular disease, European Heart Journal, 36:2  

(4) GLOBAL BURDEN OF DISEASE Wales estimates –