AIR pollution in parts of the region is so bad that it is the equivalent of smoking 93 cigarettes a year, a charity is warning.

New analysis of data by the British Heart Foundation showed that Middlesbrough and York were the most polluted areas in the region, with an increased risk of death that is, on average, the same as smoking 93 cigarettes annually.

Living in Stockton and Redcar was the same as smoking cigarettes a year, Hartlepool 86, Harrogate 83, Darlington 82, Newcastle 82 and Durham 76

The new figures come as the BHF urges the next UK government to urgently adopt into law tougher World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution limits.

The UK currently subscribes to EU limits on levels of fine particulate matter called PM2.5, which are not as stringent as those set by the WHO. This fine particulate matter is the most dangerous kind of air pollution, finding its way into the circulatory system when inhaled. BHF research has shown that PM2.5 can have a seriously detrimental effect to heart health, making existing conditions worse, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Every year around 480 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths in the North East are attributed to particulate matter air pollution.

In July 2019, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) published findings which found that implementing WHO guidelines on air pollution is “technically feasible”.

Jacob West, Executive Director of Healthcare Innovation at the British Heart Foundation said: “Air pollution is a major public health emergency, and over many years it has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves. As these figures show, the effect of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system is profound, and we have no choice over the air we breathe in the places we live."

Before parliament was dissolved for the general election, the government introduced the Environment Bill, which set out a commitment to binding targets for fine particulate matter, but did not commit to adopting World Health Organization guideline limits.

The BHF says such a commitment is a crucial step in protecting the nation’s heart health. Binding 2030 targets, set in law, will ensure effective action to reduce air pollution and the risk it poses.