'Ban ciggies from streets'

Researchers are calling for a blanket ban on smoking in city streets after finding high rates of carcinogens being puffed into pedestrians.

Otago University public health researchers tested the air quality near smokers in Lower Hutt's city centre over five weeks and found concerning levels of pollution.

They used a sensitive air monitor as they walked past 284 people smoking on the footpath and recorded high rates of fine particles, which can cause lung disease and cancer when breathed in from second-hand smoke.

Fine particles go deep into the airways and settle in the lungs, compared to larger particles that the nose and throat can cough up, study co-author Associate Professor Nick Wilson said.

"It is known that from the best estimates well over 1000 New Zealanders are dying each year from air pollution exposure."

The peak levels of pollution puffed out by Lower Hutt smokers was more than double the amount being emitted from passing cars.

The World Health Organisation says there is no safe level of second- hand smoke and any exposure can be hazardous to health.

Prof Wilson said on average there were 70 per cent more fine particles in the air when standing at an average distance of 2.6 metres from a smoker. When standing next to a smoker at a bus stop, the mean fine particle pollution level was 16 times the normal level.

He called on councils to make inner-city streets smoke free to help protect the health of pedestrians and people working or socialising in outdoor seating.

"They should be particularly concerned about protecting bar and restaurant workers who frequently have to breathe in second hand smoke when servicing outdoor tables with smokers."

Other benefits include decreased street cleaning costs from less cigarette butt litter, a better public image for a city and the reduction of second-hand smoke drifting into shops and offices.

Prof Wilson suggested designated smoking areas could be established if smoking was banned from city streets to cater for those who couldn't kick the habit.

The ban would be a step towards the Government's goal of making New Zealand smoke free by 2025.

Researcher George Thomson said several Australian cities and many in Japan and California had successfully adopted smoke-free policies for some outdoor shopping areas.

"Much of the impetus for these policies is to denormalise smoking further, and to decrease the example of smoking to children." Fairfax NZ

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