Living in the UK’s most polluted cities and towns increases the risk of an early death by the equivalent of smoking three cigarettes a week, a charity has warned.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said air pollution must be declared “a public health emergency”.
Its analysis shows that people living in the Newham, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Islington areas of London are worst hit by air pollution – the equivalent to smoking more than 150 cigarettes a year on average.
Those in Waltham Forest, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham, Lambeth and Southwark in London are also badly affected, as are people in Slough, Dartford, Portsmouth, Medway, Luton, Gravesham and Thurrock.
The BHF wants the next government to urgently introduce tougher World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits.
It said current EU limits – which the UK comfortably meets – for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are 25 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average.
The WHO limits are tougher – at 10 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average.
The BHF said PM2.5 can have a “seriously detrimental effect to heart health”, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke and making existing health problems worse.