Sun, Jun 12, 2005 - Page 8 News List

It's oil, not smoke

By Giles Witton-Davies

I read with interest the letter (Letters, June 8, page 8) concerning the harmful effects of smoking and passive smoking. I agree entirely that we should do our best to help citizens to avoid inhaling harmful fumes, but I feel that your contributor has overlooked a far more harmful source of poisonous gases: the car.

The harm caused by pollution from cars, trucks and buses in a city like Taipei is far greater than the relatively minor effects of smoking. It has been calculated that people living or working in city centers are forced to inhale the equivalent of up to three packets of cigarettes per day due to vehicle emissions.

That makes Taipei a city of chain smokers. As a cyclist, I feel that something can and should be done to prevent car users from wreaking such havoc on everybody's health. It seems to me that those who complain most about other people smoking are often drivers of the biggest, most wasteful and polluting vehicles (which should perhaps be called ULVs -- "unnecessarily large vehicles" -- and taxed appropriately).

The exhaust output of any car in a few minutes certainly dwarfs that of even the heaviest heavy smoker in a day. It is also much harder to escape from car fumes than from cigarette smoke, at least for city dwellers, as we breathe it in everywhere we go. So why focus exclusively on the relatively minor and avoidable effects of smoking?

Calling New York "smoke free" just because it has banned smoking, while the city's streets and avenues are literally choked with traffic day and night, is just laughable.

One particular habit common here in Taipei is for drivers to leave their engines running while the car is parked. This fills the surrounding area with clouds of noxious fumes, all for no obvious benefit to anyone. Recently, near the flower clock in Yangmingshan, I passed a row of six parked tour-buses, all with their engines on. Around them were the passengers, who had doubtless gone to the mountains for a breath of fresh air.

Of course, I haven't even mentioned the now very immediate threat of global warming, caused by a build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere, to which cars and car production contribute hugely. Drivers are effectively saying that their convenience today is more important than the future, not just of their children, but of our very planet. So rather than persecuting smokers, how about going after the real villains of our age, the automobile and its numerous accomplices, such as Big Oil.

Giles Witton-Davies


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