How to Reduce Premature Deaths Linked to Environmental Risks

(Photo: Gianluca Di natale)(Photo: Gianluca Di natale)

Millions of deaths around the world are preventable every year without any additional spending on research for treatment. And the cause has nothing to do with gun violence or war.

According to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 12.6 million people die globally each year as a result of environmental exposures. More than 8 million of those deaths are caused by exposures to non-infectious or parasitic forms of environmental risks, including air pollution and secondhand smoke.

Low- and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific and Africa account for most of those deaths. But some of the environmental risk is coming from the United States, which continues to export coal to poor countries. Why the urgency? There are steps we can take immediately to stop some of the premature deaths.

First, using products that significantly reduce air pollution exposures will help. More than 3 billion people around the world still cook and heat their homes using open fires that burn solid waste such as wood, crop wastes, animal dung and coal for fuel.

When that fuel is burned, it releases small particulates — more commonly known as soot — that contribute to premature deaths, especially in children and older people, from asthma, pneumonia, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. 

One step toward reduction in deaths is to stop supplying poor countries with products that cause environmental harms. At the top of this list are tobacco products, which not only kill up to 50 percent of those who smoke them, but these products contribute to another 600,000 deaths per year from secondhand smoke, according to the WHO. 

Countries around the world exported more than $24 billion worth of tobacco products in 2014. The United States shipped more than $500 million in those products to foreign countries. But that number does not reflect the actual level of US company involvement in…

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