Paris-A ‘pandemic’ of air pollution shortens lives worldwide by nearly three years on average, and causes 8.8 million premature deaths annually, scientists said Tuesday.

Eliminating the toxic cocktail of molecules and lung-clogging particles cast off by burning oil, gas and coal would restore a full year of life expectancy, they reported in the journal Cardiovascular Research.

“Air pollution is a larger public health risk than tobacco smoking,” lead author Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany told AFP.

“Much of it can be avoided by replacing fossil fuels with clean renewable energy.”

Compared to other causes of premature death, air pollution kills 19 times more people each year than malaria, nine times more than HIV/AIDS, and three times more than alcohol, the study found.

Coronary heart disease and stroke account for almost half of those deaths, with lung diseases and other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure accounting for most of the rest.

Only six percent of mortality stemming from polluted air is due to lung cancer.

“Our results show there is an ‘air pollution pandemic’,” said senior author Thomas Munzel of the Max Planck Institute’s departments of chemistry and cardiology.