App Raises Awareness by Translating Air Pollution Into Cigarettes Smoked

An OpenAQ Use Case

How do we help the public truly understand the severity of air pollution given that it’s largely an invisible threat? One creative way is Sh**t! I Smoke, a mobile app that compares air pollution to cigarette smoking.

Here’s the story of how this app came to be and the impact it is having.

Amaury Martiny, a software developer in France, first became interested in air quality when he lived in China. For a decade during his youth, he saw the air degrading in that country, especially in the years leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. Amaury maintained a casual interest in the topic, reading about the issue here and there, which led to his discovery of an article published in 2015, Air Pollution and Cigarette Equivalence, by Richard Muller and Elizabeth Muller of Berkeley Earth. Amaury realized he could use the formula introduced in the article to create an educational app with shock value.

Skilled in back-end development, Amaury needed someone with the skills to design the user experience. He attended a freelancers meetup in Paris where he found a willing partner in Marcelo Coelho, a designer with a long-time interest in urban environmental issues. Amaury and Marcelo developed a basic app in little time (using data accessed from the OpenAQ data platform and AQICN), shared it with the public, then added new features based on user feedback. Their iterative, community-oriented ethos is also expressed in the fact that community members can contribute code to the open-source app.

Amaury describes their goal as raising awareness of the risks of air pollution, saying, “What is so beautiful about the Berkeley Earth correlation is that it makes air pollution much more tangible to the general public. When you know you, your children, and your pets are unwillingly smoking the equivalent of four cigarettes a day, you start thinking about air pollution more seriously.”

The Sh**t! I Smoke app has received lots of media attention and is used by people around the globe. While the app’s design is lighthearted, that fun is tempered by its message. Marcelo and Amaury remember distinctly how people woke up to the dangers of air pollution when wildfires started consuming parts of the U.S. West. They especially hope to increase the app’s utility in countries where air quality is the worst by translating it into additional languages.

As well, the app’s utility would increase if more governments opened up their air quality data. Marcelo, who grew up in Brazil, notes that when the app first launched, the only data publicly available in Brazil was from São Paulo. Now there is more open data across the country, better serving the public’s interest.

Amaury and Marcelo are grateful to OpenAQ for making air quality data freely available. Just as they share OpenAQ’s belief in working with community and being open-source, they–like OpenAQ–aren’t interested in turning a profit. Sh**t! I Smoke is a work of love for living beings: by bringing awareness to the issue, Marcelo and Amaury hope to spur action.

Find out how many cigarettes you are unwillingly smoking at Sh**t! I Smoke.

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We host real-time air quality data on a free and open data platform because people do amazing things with it. Find us at openaq.org.