Menu Menu

Report reveals tobacco’s ‘devastating’ ecological impact

It’s common knowledge that smoking kills a ridiculous amount of people every year – eight million, to be exact. What we hear far less about, however, is the tobacco industry’s ‘devastating’ impact on the planet.

If the inevitability of lung disease and emphysema aren’t high enough stakes to convince you to pack in the cigarettes, let’s try a different approach.

The World Health Organisation just released a comprehensive report outlining the destructive impact of the deadly industry on the environment – and, inadvertently, the health of non-smokers too.

Every year, tobacco farming costs the world some 600m trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22bn tons of water, and 84m tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. For context, this emission dump is equivalent to around one-fifth produced by the entire airline industry.

The majority of this tobacco is grown in low-to-middle income countries, which means that already scarce resources like water and fertile soil have to be diverted into farming the plants. Meanwhile, increasing consumer demand is prompting companies to tear down forests for more space.

Once the stuff is eventually tucked up within roll-up envelopes and cigarette packs, it becomes an environmental menace of an entirely different variety. Does it ever end?

The answer is an emphatic no! Tobacco products are also reportedly the most littered item on the planet, containing 7,000 chemicals scientifically flagged as toxic to our environment.

As of today, approximately 4.5tn cigarette filters pollute our oceans, beaches, rivers, streets, parks, and soil every year, according to Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.

The cost of cleaning this perpetual mess falls on taxpayers, while the tobacco industry takes precisely zero share of the responsibility. Annually, this sets China’s citizens back some $2.6bn, India roughly $766m, and both Germany and Brazil over $200m respectively. So yeh, a fair bit.

‘The industry’s ecological impact is equivalent to one of the large oil companies,’ says anti-tobacco organisation STOP, exclaiming that we should now ‘talk about big tobacco the same way we talk about big oil as a cause of climate change.’

Thankfully, several governments are striving to limit tobacco’s growing ecological impact before it spirals further out of control. France and Spain – and multiple US states, including San Francisco and California – have already enacted a law called ‘extender producer responsibility legislation.’

The crux of this reform is that the tobacco industry should be primarily liable to clean up the pollution it creates. Given the numbers we’ve previously discussed, this is no small feat.

The WHO urges more policymakers to follow this example, and those farming the tobacco to begin using sustainable crops. Aside from this, it calls for more corporate support to ‘help to quit’ services.

‘Reducing tobacco use and holding the industry accountable is a win-win for health and the planet,’ the report states.

So, there we have it. Smokers can no longer claim they’re merely hurting themselves. Remind friends and family members the next time they palm you off.


Thred Newsletter!

Sign up to our planet-positive newsletter