28/07/2017 08:53 BST | Updated 28/07/2017 08:54 BST

Now Is The Time For Brave And Bold Action To Clean Up Our Air

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Air pollution is an invisible but deadly problem. Right now, the health of thousands of people across the UK is under threat from dangerously high levels of air pollution. It's a threat that requires immediate action.

Outdoor air pollution contributes to an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year and even short term exposure can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Despite the huge scale of this problem, the impact of air pollution on cardiovascular disease is often overlooked. Globally 80% of deaths related to outdoor air pollution are due to heart disease or stroke.

Yet, a 2015 poll commissioned by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that while nine in ten people knew that air pollution can worsen asthma, less than half were aware of its link with heart conditions and just two in ten knew that it increases stroke risk.

The BHF has funded substantial research showing how both short and long term exposure to high levels of air pollution, particularly from vehicle exhaust, can contribute to serious cardiovascular health problems, disproportionately affecting some of the most vulnerable in society.

The Government's final air quality plan published this week is absolutely crucial to cleaning up the air we breathe but it doesn't go far enough. Rapid action must be taken to stop this becoming the public health crisis of our generation.

The Government's aim for the UK to become a global leader in air quality is very positive news but we urgently need a new Clean Air Act with stricter pollution limits to help make this vision a reality.

Banning new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 is a big step forward but it won't benefit the millions of people today being put at increased risk of a deadly heart attack or stroke by the UK's air pollution.

We need to focus on the most polluted areas as these are having the most significant impact on people's heart health. Charging the most polluting vehicles to enter clean air zones and delivering a targeted diesel scrappage scheme is still the most rapid and effective way to improve the nation's air quality and help save lives.

But this alone is not enough. Progress will require a huge shift in attitudes. Every interested party - from the Government to the car industry to the general population - must understand just how real and damaging the health effects are, and how unfairly they are hitting some of those already most at risk from the socio-economic causes of poor health, such as children growing up in poor communities living close to busy urban roads.

This step change requires strong leadership. Like the ban on smoking in public places, we need clear and bold measures to deliver a widespread change in behaviour. But, most importantly, we need to act quickly, as every day of delay puts millions of heart patients at greater risk.