Tribuna Article
Pubblicato: 2021-06-08

The choice of Milan. Smoking and air pollution

Dipartimento di Ambiente e Salute, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri” IRCCS, Milano
Editor di; Associazione Italiana di Epidemiologia (AIE)


Since January 19, 2021, the measure Air and Climate – strongly desired by the Municipality of Milan – came into effect in Milan, banning smoking at public transport stops, in parks, cemeteries and sports facilities, such as stadia, within a radius of 10 meters from other people. By 2025 limitations will be extended and smoking will not be allowed within 10 meters from other people in any place throughout the city [1].

Concerns on this new rules arose in an editorial on the newspaper Corriere della Sera from the writer and intellectual Antonio Scurati [2,3]. We already addressed his arguments on the pages of Corriere della Sera [4,5] and in an article on the website [6] but we desire to respond also here, on Tabaccologia.

The first argument that Scurati claims is that this measure makes the smoker a real scapegoat bringing to light the inability to tackle the problem at the roots, eliminating the real culprits: transport, industry, agriculture and heating. We are well aware of the main sources of atmospheric poisoning. However, we believe that the great impact of cigarette smoking on air quality cannot be underestimated or minimized. There are many scientific works proving it. To convince the reader, we suggest the vision of some very clear and explanatory videos that present experiments conducted by the Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan a few years ago, showing how a single cigarette causes more air pollution, in terms of PM10, PM2.5 and PM1, compared to some cars [7] or even to a new generation diesel truck [8]. It can be estimated that, in Milan area only, cigarettes smoked by 700,000 resident smokers cause the release into the air of about 56 tons of particulate matter, in addition to a large amount of other toxic substances. It is therefore important that the more than 11 million Italians who still smoke [9] are well aware that their total annual consumption of 65 billion cigarettes contributes significantly to the increase in environmental pollution, regardless of where they smoke.

A second argument, raised by the Writer, concerns the imposition “by law” of an fundamentalist ideology of healthy life that harms individual freedom: “Those who plan the civic culture of the next future should enhance the centrality to the individual, not subtract it. We already suffer the hegemony of Google, Zuckerberg [N.d.A. Facebook] and Bezos [N.d.A. Amazon], we do not need further impositions for a good and healthy life” [2]. We understand the annoyance of being constrained, but we cannot avoid a less reductive analysis of such a complex issue as dependence. We believe that nicotine addiction is the real limitation of individual freedom, because smokers are not free to live even a day without smoking. Smokers are the victims of a psychophysical addiction induced by the tobacco industry which will lead them to an average premature death of ten years [10]. Seventy years of research and tens of thousands of scientific studies have shown that smoking, active and passive, not only causes more than 70,000 deaths each year in Italy alone [11], but also causes a significant disability, which affects life quality [12].

Fortunately, tobacco smoking is no longer considered an “inexhaustible vice”; it is possible to quit and, today, with psychological or pharmacological support, it is even more simple [13]. We recommend smokers to quit smoking as soon as possible, not just for their own safety but also to safeguard the right to health of those who do not smoke, a right which should always prevail over the individual smoker’s freedom to smoke.


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Silvano Gallus

Dipartimento di Ambiente e Salute, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri” IRCCS, Milano

Paolo D’Argenio

Editor di
Associazione Italiana di Epidemiologia (AIE)


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