31 May The Harmful Impact of Tobacco on the Environment
The world celebrates World No Tobacco Day on 31st May 2022 every year and the theme for 2022 is tobacco: Threat to our environment. The day was incorporated to inform the public about the dangers of using tobacco, tobacco manufacturing companies’ harmful business practices, and how the global community can fight tobacco use and reclaim their right to healthy living and a healthy environment.
To mark this year’s celebration, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has renewed its collaboration with WHO to raise awareness of the tobacco industry’s contribution to the triple planetary crisis. The renewed collaboration also contributes to the 2022 World Environment Day theme: OnlyOneEarth, with the focus on “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature.”Sustainably in Harmony with Nature.”
Impact of Tobacco Production and Use
Tobacco use kills over 8 million people every year and destroys our environment, further harming human health, through the cultivation, production, distribution, consumption, and post-consumer waste. According to the WHO 600,000,000 trees were chopped down to make cigarettes, 84,000,000 tonnes of CO2 Emissions were released into the air raising global temperatures and 22,000,000,000 Litres of water were used to make cigarettes. These figures are too gigantic to be ignored. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the world.
Research has found that growing tobacco contributes to deforestation, especially in the developing world. Deforestation for tobacco plantations promotes soil degradation and “failing yields” or the capacity for the land to support the growth of any other crops or vegetation. Tobacco farmers typically clear land by burning it. But this land is often agriculturally marginal and is abandoned after only a few seasons, contributing in many cases to desertification. Burning increases greenhouse gas levels by generating water and air pollutants, and decreasing forest cover which would otherwise absorb the 16 million metric tons of CO2 produced by tobacco production. Shutting down the tobacco industry would equate to taking 16 million cars off the streets every single year. Tobacco production uses up more water and wood and has more pesticides applied to it than most other crops, further affecting water supplies and contamination of the soil.
The smoke generated from burning tobacco, called secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke, contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals that pollute both indoor and outdoor environments and can be toxic even after the tobacco product is put out.
Third-hand smoke, which can affect air quality and become more toxic over time, is the residue from secondhand smoke that gathers in dust and on objects and surfaces in indoor environments. These objects can end up in landfills and waste, becoming a further pollution risk to the environment.
Impact of Tobacco on the environment
Cigarette butts are the most littered item on earth. Almost 80% of smokers dispose of cigarettes on the ground or out of a car window. An estimated 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts wind up as toxic trash negatively affecting the environment. The toxic chemicals from littered cigarette butts leach into the environment and end up scattered along with green spaces, sidewalks, roadsides, beaches, and waterways. The toxic exposure can contaminate water and poison fish, as well as animals that eat cigarette butts.
Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that only degrades under severe biological circumstances, such as when filters collect in sewage. In practice, cigarette butts tossed on streets and beaches do not biodegrade. Under optimal conditions, it can take at least nine months for a cigarette butt to degrade. The sun may break cigarette butts down, but only into smaller pieces of waste that dilute into water/soil.