The Tobacco Industry Is Even Worse for the Planet Than You Probably Imagined

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Jun. 1 2022, Published 12:54 p.m. ET

Source: Getty Images

The tobacco industry has many known effects on the people and the planet — smoking cigarettes can cause cancer and other diseases. And as a common form of litter, cigarettes are constantly polluting beaches, waterways, and ground soil. But evidently, the impact of the tobacco industry is much worse than we thought.

The WHO recently released a report that details the industry's impact, and between processing and transporting, the tobacco industry leaches thousands of toxic chemicals into the environment.

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The WHO is taking these matters seriously, and is calling on the government to hold the industry accountable for its environmental destruction.

"The tobacco industry dumps toxic waste into communities and depletes natural resources," Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO, told Agence France-Presse, per Phys. "Tobacco is not only poisoning people, it's poisoning our planet."

“Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded," Krech also stated in the report.

"Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year."

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The WHO is raising concerns about the environmental impact of the tobacco industry.

The WHO report, titled “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet,” delves into how the industry affects the planet, from production to processing, and transportation. Its CO2 emissions are equivalent to about 20 percent of the CO2 emissions that come from the commercial airline industry every year, taking a significant toll on the planet, and further contributing to global warming. And the effects are especially high in more vulnerable, low-income countries, contributing to food and water shortages.

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Annually, the tobacco industry is estimated to take 8 million human lives, kill 600 million trees, clear 200,000 hectares of land, waste 22 billion billion tonnes of water, and emit 84 million tonnes of CO2. The report also notes that smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes contribute to the pollution as well. Although cigarette filters are supposedly beneficial, they do little to protect smokers, and later break down into microplastics — the same goes for e-cigarettes.

Sadly, taxpayers pay to clean up tobacco pollution, costing China $2.6 billion annually, India $766 million, and Brazil over $200 million. Certain communities — Spain, France, and San Francisco to name a few — have made the producers liable for the pollution, and the WHO is encouraging other countries and cities to follow suit. The WHO is also looking to support tobacco farmers to switch to more sustainable crops, to enforce tobacco taxes, and to provide support services to help people quit.

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The tobacco industry also poses a major health risk to the tobacco farmers themselves.

While the tobacco industry is making consumers sick, it's also posing a major health risk to tobacco farmers. According to France24, approximately 25 percent of tobacco farmers come down with "green tobacco sickness." Basically, those who are in contact with tobacco all day are poisoned by the nicotine that's absorbed through their skin.

Through skin contact, tobacco farmers consume an estimated 50 cigarettes' worth of nicotine daily.

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And while this is worrying for those who own the farm, many of the laborers working on tobacco farms in other countries are children.

“Just imagine a 12-year-old being exposed to 50 cigarettes a day,” Krech said, per France24.

And as previously mentioned, tobacco farms are predominantly located in areas where farmland, food, and water is scarce — meaning the crops are generally grown at the expense of those who need food. It also depletes drinking water for these communities, and contributes to about 5 percent of global deforestation.

That said, the tobacco industry takes a major toll on the planet — hopefully the government will listen to the WHO's pleas, and take a stand.

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