Smog is a type of air pollutant. The word “smog” was coined in the early 20th century as a portmanteau of the words “smoke” and “fog,” to refer to smoky fog. There are several significant examples of smog events in the human history. There was huge smog problem in London from the 1800s to the mid-1900s. Another example is Los Angeles, where they experienced high levels of smog in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, many developing countries such as China, India, and Mexico, are also suffering from smog.
In China, awareness of smog is increased by various means. For example, a famous Chinese reporter made a self-financed documentary film about air pollution called “Under the Dome,” which was a hit online. There are smartphone apps that report the daily air quality along with the weather, and recommend if people should wear a mask or should avoid outdoor activities. Moreover, there is a Chinese version of Twitter called “Weibo” and online forum “Zhihu, ” that is very popular among people. On these forums, people discuss how to protect themselves from the smog and further how to reduce the pollution. It seems like everyone should have sufficient data about air pollution and should know many ways of protecting themselves.
Interestingly, I found that’s not the case. When my mother traveled to Tianjin, a city near Beijing that has a serious smog problem, I know she didn’t wear a mask. From my point of view, it was unimaginable not to wear a mask understanding the harm smog causes to the human body. Her comment was that other people were not wearing masks, so she didn’t either. I wondered why, and I think the answer is that she doesn’t have access to the same platforms where I get the information.
It occurred to me that lower income populations and older generations may not have access to the same information as we do, so they are more vulnerable to the smog. In Beijing, 8 million migrant workers are without access to the Internet and, therefore, aren’t aware of the harm of smog to the human body. Also, only 50% of Chinese people have access to the web, meaning the other 50% of the population won’t have the same information.
So how can China increase awareness about the effects smog and protect these people?
The easiest way to protect them is to help them wear a mask when the area pollution is severe. Masks aren’t the ultimate way to fight smog, but they are better than nothing and can be used to minimize health impacts during the time it takes to improve air quality. After all, it took London 43 years and Los Angeles 61 years to control the smog effectively.
Then, how do we proceed?
The price of an anti-dust mask is 0.11 Chinese yuan, which is less than $0.02. If 60% of the year is smoggy, and if a person wears a mask on every smoggy day, it will cost him or her 24 Chinese yuan, less than $4 USD per year. It seems that everyone should be able to afford masks, but some people just aren’t aware that they should wear them.
Solving the problem is becoming easier.
A law that makes it every employer’s responsibility to ensure his or her employees wear a mask on smog days is a good way to solve this problem. Most of the migrant workers are working in construction, restaurants, cleaning services, or food stalls on the street. Having every employer require that their employees to wear one are a good way to solve the problem.
Additionally, the government should provide more education about smog in public spaces. By requiring signs saying “Wear a mask on smog days” at restaurants, restrooms, buses, bus stations and other public places, more people will become aware of a simple solution for smoggy days. This marketing won’t cost too much money for any parties, but will have a good effect on educating people who don’t know to wear a mask.