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Uruguayan air quality is the best anywhere in the world according to a new study by Yale University.

Uruguay, interestingly along with a number of tiny island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, shares top spot in the ranking. It also takes first place in quantity of trees planted since 2000.

Air quality takes into account the general population’s exposure to tobacco smoke, wood and coal burning as well as pollution produced by industries.

Uruguay’s 2006 smoking ban

Uruguay was the first country in Latin America to ban smoking in all enclosed public places back in 2006. It was the fourth country in the world to do so after Ireland, Sweden and Norway.

As restaurants tried to work out how they could keep customers happy, the government allowed them to build outside decks. As long as the sides are technically “open” then smoking is allowed.

This has had the unexpected boon of not only making work and entertainment places so much more hospitable. And it has produced a thriving street-side cafe and restaurant culture.

I have to say I can’t remember the last time I was annoyed by someone smoking next to me. It’s also extremely rare to see someone violating the smoking ban, certainly not in restaurants and bars.

Not all trees are good trees

The “forest” data is where I am sceptical regarding the positive impact. The study measures the loss in forested area from 2000 to 2012 using satellite-derived data.

Huge plantations of eucalyptus trees have appeared all over Uruguay during this period, in response to demand from paper-pulp mills.

Not only has it changed the character of the Uruguayan landscape with swathes of formerly pampa and grasslands now covered kilometres upon kilometres of uniform lines of trees. It has lead to very problematic lowering of the water table in some previously prime agricultural areas as well as depleting rich soil which would be far better used by other more labour-intensive farming.

It is a very short-sighted form of industrial development that unfortunately the government has encouraged.

The Yale Environmental Performance Index measures 178 countries worldwide.


Uruguay: The little country that changed tobacco laws Uruguay won a major case against Philip Morris in a World Bank ruling that could embolden other small countries that want to deter tobacco use. [July 9 2016]

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