Tobacco is Imposing environmental health related risks: Here is How

Tobacco smoking is known to kill more than 8 million people each year. Tobacco does not only harm the smoker, but it affects other people through secondhand exposure. 

As though this is not sufficient…

Research in tobacco free life evidently shows that smoking and the tobacco industry constantly causes harm to the environment which is instigating irreversible damage to the biological systems, polluting water, land, and air and pushing earth towards a worldwide disaster.

Tobacco farming is a complicated process involving heavy use of pesticides, growth regulators, and chemical fertilizers. While acknowledging that some of the negative environmental impacts are also caused by other agricultural cash crops, a study published in tobacco control BMJ, argued that tobacco production exercises an extra stress on low-income and middle-income countries (LMIC) ecosystems and causes specific health and socioeconomic problems for poor populations engaged in tobacco growing. Some of the main reported environmental impacts of tobacco growing are effects of forest depletion and soil degradation. All phases of cigarette production, from leaf cultivation through cigarette manufacture to transportation, contribute to greenhouse gas emission responsible for global climate change.

Cigarette butts are not just polluting the environment, they are also a toxic waste. They contain chemicals that contaminate waterways, ground soil and harm our wildlife. Discarded lit cigarettes can cause fires, which can damage homes and land. It is also very costly to clean up cigarette waste – a problem that continues to grow every year.

The tobacco free life listed a number of facts about smoking and the extent of environmental damage and pollution it causes:

Fact 1: Each year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are disposed of. A generous estimate is that half of them end up in landfills – the other half ends up in soil, lakes, oceans, and forests. Cigarette butts are theoretically biodegradable (they are made of cellulose acetate), but it takes them just under 2 years to completely vanish (which is also debatable as nothing vanishes completely) – and that is under perfect conditions.

Fact 2: 600 million trees are chopped down every year by the tobacco industry. Keep in mind that for every 15 packs of cigarettes a smoker smokes, one tree has to die.

Fact 3: US tobacco industry produces 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in one year – global tobacco production quadruples that amount. For comparison, one car produces 4 million times less. Shutting down the tobacco industry equates to taking 16 million cars off the streets every single year.

Fact 4: Tobacco manufacturers use four miles of paper every hour to wrap and package cigarettes and other products – making the entire industry a sizeable contributor to deforestation although it already is one to begin with.

The ASH factsheet provides a description of the carbon footprint of a smoker: the environmental impact a single smoker has on the environment.

The environmental impact was quantified at an individual level to highlight the sizeable individual contribution of a smoker, whereby even one cigarette is associated with an environmental burden.

The authors calculated the environmental impact of one person smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes every day for 50 years, these were quantified as:

• A total carbon footprint of 5.1t CO2 equivalent emissions, which to offset, would require 132 tree

seedlings planted and grown for 10 years.

• A water footprint of 1,355 m3, which is equivalent to almost 62 years’ water supply for any three

people’s basic needs.

• Total fossil fuel depletion of 1.3 tonne oil equivalent, which is comparable to the electricity use of an average household in India for almost 15 years.

The Global health community and civil society need to heighten efforts to implement article 17 and 18 of the WHO FCTC framework and have due regard for the protection of the environment and the health of people in relation to the environment in respect of tobacco cultivation and manufacturing within their respective territories. There is a great need to address the harmful impact of tobacco in relation to the environment.