Trend: Sales of Respirators and Surgical Masks Skyrocket in China

The sale of respirators and surgical masks is skyrocketing in China, which has been plagued this year by severe smog incidents in Beijing, Harbin and most recently Shanghai. In December 2013, air pollution levels surpassed World Health Organization standards by more than 40 times in the cities of Hangzhou and Shanghai. In Shanghai, the number of patients admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems increased by 30 percent over the course of just a few days, according to the city’s department of health.

In response, Chinese citizens — and Westerners living in China — are buying respirators, air filters and surgical masks in record numbers. In December, sales of surgical masks jumped 350 percent on one Chinese e-commerce website alone. And in November, the US Embassy in Beijing made the unprecedented move of ordering nearly 5,000 medical-grade air filters for its employees to use at home. Increasingly, employers are making bulk purchases of these items and distributing them to their employees.

This new reality in China means that companies specializing in pulmonary, cardiovascular and diagnostic devices are likely to see their sales increase in coming years. Pulmonary products include inhalers, ventilators and oxygen concentrators. Heart valves, on-pump coronary artery bypass (ONCAB) devices, ventricular assist devices (VADs) and endoscopic vessel harvesting (EVH) devices are all cardiovascular devices that should be in higher demand. Diagnostic devices for diseases like lung cancer include bronchoscopes, mediastinoscopes and CT scanners.

Air pollution is the fourth leading risk factor for preventable deaths in China, according to a 2013 article published in The Lancet magazine. Researchers estimated that in 2010 alone, air pollution led to 1.2 million premature deaths across China. Another study found that people living in northern China had their life expectancy reduced by an average of 5.5 years due to air pollution.