Woodfire heater smoke is a risk factor for developing asthma and triggering symptoms in people who already have asthma. It is also a risk factor for other respiratory illnesses, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, premature birth, and premature death.
Woodfire heater smoke contains harmful pollutants known as particulate matter that are easily breathed in and enter the body via the lungs. The small particles or PM2.5 in woodfire smoke are especially dangerous, and there is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5 – this means even low levels of PM2.5 can trigger asthma symptoms and cause health impacts.
This has a direct health impact on people with asthma, from increased symptoms to hospitalisation – greatly impacting their ability to live freely in our communities. In some parts of Australia, woodfire heater smoke is the largest source of winter air pollution even though just 7% of Australian homes rely on woodfires as a main source of heating.
While home heating can be vital during the colder months, it shouldn’t cause health problems for neighbours.
With healthier heating alternatives available, Asthma Australia wants to see woodfire heaters phased out. We know it is expensive to switch to efficient, reverse cycle air conditioning, and this is where governments need to step in – and the Australian public agrees with us.
In a nationally representative survey of 25,000 people completed in November 2020, Asthma Australia asked the Australian public about their attitudes to woodfire heaters and their regulation.
We found most people, particularly those with asthma, support leaving woodfire heaters behind for better, healthier alternatives.
Three-quarters of the general population (77%) agree that woodfire heaters should not be allowed in urban or built-up areas and over half agree they should be phased out (55%) or banned completely (54%).
Support for regulation was even higher amongst people with asthma with 84% support for regulation of woodfire heaters in urban built-up areas, 71% support for a scheme to phase them out completely, and 65% agreeing they should be banned.
People who are exposed to woodfire heaters said they are largely unable to protect themselves from the smoke, further demonstrating the need for government regulation.
Asthma Australia has a number of policy recommendations to minimise the harm caused by woodfire heater smoke which is detailed in our woodfire smoke policy position.
Our survey has confirmed what people with asthma have been telling us for years: government and community action is needed to switch towards healthier heating options.
How You Can Help
Write to us
Send us an email at email@example.com
Explain the health impact this is having on you or your loved one’s asthma. Your story will help us advocate for reforms to help people with asthma in our submissions to governments or meetings with decision-makers. We are happy to share this anonymously.
If you live in Victoria or the ACT – Access or promote woodfire heater replacement schemes
If you live in Victoria or the Australian Capital Territory, you may be eligible for access to a woodfire heater replacement scheme. These schemes offer subsidies to people who want to replace their woodfire heaters (or gas or electric heaters, in Victoria) with reverse cycle air conditioning. In addition to being better for air quality, reverse cycle air conditioning is the most efficient way to heat your home – and it cools in summer!
You can access information about these schemes, including eligibility criteria, through the links below. We encourage you to share these links with your family, friends and your community, including through your personal or community Facebook pages.
Distribute our flyer in your neighbourhood or online—we have put together a flyer to encourage people using woodfire heaters to take up replacement schemes available in the ACT and Victoria. You may wish to distribute flyers in mailboxes in your neighbourhood, share them at your local community event, or share them on social media.
If you live outside Victoria or the ACT – contact your state government representative
Contact your local state/ territory representative—If you are concerned about woodfire heater smoke and would like your state to introduce a replacement scheme, like the ones in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, you can write to your local state government representative and to encourage them to support a scheme. A draft letter can be downloaded here which we encourage you to personalise with your own experience and concerns.