When Stockholm, Sweden introduced a “congestion tax” to discourage driving in the center of town, traffic eased and the pollution level dropped by between 5 and 10 percent.
There was one other result that was unexpected, but welcome nonetheless: The rate of asthma attacks among local children decreased by nearly 50 percent, according to a Johns Hopkins University economist’s study of the tax and its impact.
The health improvement in children appeared more gradually than the observed decline in the pollution level, suggesting that the full health benefits from reduced pollution might not occur immediately, says Emilia Simeonova, an assistant professor at JHU’s Carey Business School. But whereas the rate of asthma attacks dropped by about 12 percent in the first seven months of the tax, it soared to 47 percent after a few years.
“The key takeaways of this paper are that health gains can be realized through efforts to lower air pollution, and that we need to be patient in waiting for the complete picture to emerge,” Simeonova says.
Asthma, the chronic inflammation of the breathing passages, afflicts people of all ages. Its onset in childhood can lead to poor lung development, causing ill effects—wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing—that can recur over a lifetime. According to the Simeonova’s paper, asthma is the leading cause of hospitalization among children in the United States, especially those living in densely populated areas with frequent traffic congestion.