More people dying from high pollution in London

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Health Editor

More people die in London on days of high outdoor air pollution, largely due to car exhaust emissions, according to a study.

Deaths from heart and respiratory disease rose by 5.4 per cent on those days when black smoke - a measure of suspended particles in the air - as well as ozone, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide levels reached their highest concentration. Overall the death rate increased by 3.4 per cent.

Warm days, when black smoke and ozone were at their peak, were the most hazardous, researchers from St George's Hospital Medical School report in the British Medical Journal, published tomorrow, which reviewed data on mortality and daily pollution levels between April 1987 and March 1992.

Vehicle emissions in London are generally well below World Health Organisation guidelines, but Professor Ross Anderson and his team say that most of the population are suffering levels of pollution that have an adverse effect on their lungs.

The most important pollutant is ozone, and there is "good evidence" that levels encountered in London are toxic to the lung, the report says. And black smoke, the second most significant pollutant, is at "historically low" levels, but could be sufficient to cause the deaths of vulnerable people.

A second paper in the BMJ, from Hillingdon Hospital, Middlesex, reports the discovery that wheezy attacks among children were linked with very high or very low levels of ozone in the atmosphere. Sulphur dioxide levels were also implicated in the study. In an accompanying editorial, Professor David Bates, an authority on environment and health policy from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, urges new and tougher clean air legislation. He cites the bulk of evidence to show that asthma is substantially worsened by ozone and particulate pollution in the atmosphere.

tA landmark multi-million pound offer by an American tobacco firm to settle health- related legal actions has boosted the hopes of hundreds of Britons planning to sue over the harmful effects of cigarettes.

Liggett Group, the smallest of the five major US tobacco firms, is the first company in the industry to break rank and offer to settle a legal claim.

The settlement would remove Liggett from four of five lawsuits by US states against the tobacco industry, aimed at recouping medical expenses paid to treat smoking-related illnesses.

It would also resolve Liggett's part in a class action on behalf of every US smoker who claims to be addicted to tobacco.

For this part of the settlement alone Liggett has offered to pay up to pounds 83m. The offer to the US states is linked to profits.

In Britain 300 people suffering illnesses like lung cancer and emphysema are waiting for the go-ahead to launch a legal action against the tobacco industry.

The Legal Aid Board is deciding whether to fund the action, expected to cost between pounds 5m and pounds 10m.

It is based on allegations that the tobacco companies failed to take adequate steps to reduce the levels of tar and nicotine in cigarettes.

News Analysis, page 15