Environmental Economics and Policy Studies

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 325–363 | Cite as

Avoidance behavior against air pollution: evidence from online search indices for anti-PM2.5 masks and air filters in Chinese cities

  • Tong Liu
  • Guojun He
  • Alexis Lau
Research Article


This study investigates people’s behavioral responses to air pollution information in China. We find that elevated air pollution levels are positively associated with higher online searches for anti-PM2.5 masks and air filters. A 10 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 is associated with a 3.6–8.4% increase of mobile queries for anti-PM2.5 masks, and 1.1–4.7% for air filters. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that a haze alert issued when PM2.5 concentration exceeds 250 µg/m3 would double online queries for anti-PM2.5 masks and air filters. Online searches are also positively correlated with online sales. One day of severe pollution would induce a cost of 0.2 million USD on online expenditure on anti-PM2.5 masks. Some suggestive evidence shows that people in richer and polluted cities tend to search more for anti-PM2.5 masks and air filters than those in poorer and cleaner cities.


Avoidance behavior Air pollution Haze alert Online search PM2.5 

JEL Classification

Q53 I12 I18 



This research was supported by the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (PF13-10374) from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. The authors would like to thank Cong Sun for sharing the sales data. The authors also appreciate the very useful comments and suggestions of the four anonymous reviewers.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies and Springer Japan KK 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Environment and SustainabilityHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyKowloonChina
  2. 2.Division of Social Science, and Department of EconomicsHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyKowloonChina
  3. 3.School of Civil and Environmental EngineeringHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyKowloonChina

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