The high-cost burden of dealing with smog in China

World Today

Smog Calendar by Weibo user Zou Yi.

China is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to combat air pollution. Authorities in the world’s second largest economy have set a target of reducing air pollutants by more than 10 percent from 2012 levels by 2017.

While China is investing a lot of money to solve the problem, individuals are also spending their own money to protect themselves from smog.

Smog-free exercise in China

On days when the Air Quality Index (AQI) soars above 150, it is not advisable to exercise outdoors because the influx of air pollution particles can be sucked deep into the lungs.

Gyms present a protected option for those looking to stay in shape, especially when many gyms install air purifiers to make indoor air better quality. However, it doesn’t come cheap.

A typical gym membership can easily cost 300 yuan per month. That’s about $45.
Costs will, of course, go up if you hire a trainer, which will usually double that price.

Currently China has more than 5,000 commercial gyms. That number was only around 1400 in 2004.

According to a report from IBISWorld (an Australian market research organization), the market value of the fitness industry in China will reach $6.8 billion. Almost twice of the amount in 2012.

Air purifiers at home

Paying for a gym membership isn’t the only possible smog-related costs people are bearing. Many are going one step further and installing air purifiers at home.

Chu Liangliang, a sales manager from Suning Commerce Group, one of China’s biggest electronics retailers, said air purifier sales jumped from 20 percent to 30 percent across China in 2015.

“On days when the AQI approaches or breaks the 200 mark (a level considered heavily polluted), we can sell more than 70 air purifiers in just one store. While on regular days, we can only sell half that amount,” Chu told CCTV.

Prices of air purifiers range from 3,000 yuan (about $456) to more than 10,000 yuan ($1,520). Additional costs include the filter replacements that have to be purchased and changed out periodically to keep the filter fresh. This can add another 100 yuan ($15) to the monthly bill.

Personal masks for outdoor activity

Since no one can be expected to stay inside all day to avoid pollution, masks are the most common way people can protect themselves from the harmful effects of breathing in smog.

Popular masks that are being sold filter most of the air pollutants and are said to be able to stop them from being inhaled into the body, but most aren’t air tight and they need to be changed frequently when used in heavy smog.
Doctors recommend switching to a new mask every 24 hours during heavy smog times.

The cost of masks can range from 30 yuan ($4.6) to around 200 yuan ($30), and costs go above that range with more advanced products like gas masks.

Twice this December, Beijing issued a red alert for smog. The red alert is the highest level for smog in China’s four-tier emergency response system.
According to an AliHealth report, daily online sales of masks in Beijing jumped 9 times the normal sales levels in December, compared to November when skies were clearer.

When schools are closed, where do children of busy parents go?

Schools close on heavily polluted days so that children can avoid traveling outside to school or playing outside during the school day.
So who takes care of these students when their parents still have to go to work?

The cost of childcare in China can go up to around 2,000 yuan ($300) per month. A cost that many parent’s would find very hard to afford.