Everyone’s heard the scary statistic of one day breathing in Bombay is equivalent to so many cigarettes a day. Or maybe you’ve heard one day breathing in Bombay is equivalent to 2.5 packs a day. Well it turns out that the original “one day breathing in Bombay is equivalent to two and a half packs a day” didn’t come from research and studies but from Suketu Mehta. Check this out: Even a UN report quotes the same number! The disturbing news is that in 2009, one day breathing in Bombay is actually equivalent to 100 cigarettes or 5 packs a day!
The other thing about the 50 cigarettes is that these are 2004 numbers. Obviously, that’s when Maximum City came out right? Apparently Bombay’s pollution levels haven’t changed to this day. So how exactly did I figure 100 cigarettes a day? This is “breathtaking”
One important measure of air pollution is suspended particle/particulate matter or SPM. The tiny particles that enter your lungs and give you lung cancer, breathing disorders, you know the score. The only study I found was conducted in 1979 (from the book The Risks of Passive Smoking by Roy Shepherd) that said that smoking a cigarette is equivalent to 2 mg per cubic metre of SPM.
I also found out that we have something called the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board. According to them, the allowable SPM level is 100 units. Or the equivalent of 50 cigarettes a day. To give you some perspective, turns out that EU regulations permit 20 units as the yearly average or 10 cigarettes a day. Yep, turns out that if you want to live in Bombay, you have to expect to smoke 5 times as many cigarettes as the EU.
It gets scarier: I checked the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board’s numbers for October (Diwali time or the time with the maximum air pollution). In 2004, it was 6 packets (120 cigarettes) a day. In 2007, it was between 4 and 7 packets (80-140 cigarettes) a day. And in 2008, in Bandra, where we live, it was 5 packets (100 cigarettes) a day.
Apparently that’s not a bad thing. According to the media, in Bandra during Diwali 2008, air pollution (SPM levels) was only 62 units above normal. The normal, according to them, is 200 or… that’s right: 100 cigarettes a day. But didn’t we just say that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board said 50 cigarettes? Guess standards have gone up!
In April 2009, Bandra air pollution (SPM levels) was 139 or 3.5 packets a day. So I did the average of these numbers and guess what? The average is 5 packets or, that’s right, 100 cigarettes a day.
So there you have it: One day breathing in Bombay is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes or 5 packets a day. I’m amazed life insurance premiums for Bombay people aren’t sky-high. Or should I send them this post?!