The Environmental Impact of Tobacco Use – Eric David
The Environmental Impact of Tobacco Use
by Eric David
Most smokers are aware of their littering habits. A study on cigarette butt littering habits of young Americans published on NCBI.com found that respondents improperly discarded 47% of the cigarette butts that they smoked. However, the majority of smokers aren’t aware of how devastating the effects of these habits can be.
40% of women and 30% of men mistakenly believe that cigarette butts are disposable and that the harm of littering is temporary. On the contrary, cigarette butt litter can cause long-term harm. Cigarette butts make up more than 50% of all marine plastic debris, as reported by the ocean pollution unit at UBC in 2022. Another report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation further cautioned that at our current rate of consumption, these huge amounts of marine plastic could outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050.
Below, we take a closer look at how tobacco consumption impacts our environment.
Tobacco production: carbon emissions and deforestation
The annual global cultivation and production of tobacco emit 80 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This means that a single cigarette can be responsible for up to 14 grams of CO2 equivalent throughout its lifecycle.
The resulting emissions can be fatal in extremely high concentrations. As we’ve discussed in our previous article on Ditching our Gas Stoves, which are another major producer of carbon emissions, frequent exposure can increase the risk of lethal heart disease. It can also cause anything from headaches to vomiting and nausea.
Moreover, growing tobacco has been listed as a direct cause of deforestation. That’s because tobacco requires a lot of nutrients, meaning that new soils and fields are needed every three years. After harvesting, at least 8 million tons of firewood are needed for flue-curing. This is the process of drying the Virginia tobacco variety, which is the main ingredient of the popular American Blend cigarettes.
Tobacco usage and disposal: environmental pollution
Cigarette filters are the ocean’s biggest pollutant, as they break down into microplastics. This releases hundreds of toxic chemicals that can range from arsenic to lead. Additionally, simply engaging in the act of smoking releases secondhand smoke into the air. This contains over 4,000 compounds, of which most are toxic, and over 60 are carcinogens.
Furthermore, recent research is highlighting the dangers of so-called third-hand smoke. It turns out that the particles contained in tobacco smoke can settle on surfaces and textiles like carpets or curtains for up to several months. In a closed space, this can sometimes remain for several years.
As a result of these environmental damages, wildlife populations lose their natural habitats and sources of nourishment. This disturbs the natural balance of biodiversity in the ecosystem, which produces a cycle that lowers the quality of our soil, air, and water.
Every stakeholder must play their part if we are to mitigate these damages. On an individual scale, smokers can shift to smokeless nicotine products to reduce their tobacco usage. The nicotine pouches that can be found on Prilla.com are smoke-free and tobacco-free because they use synthetic nicotine created in a laboratory. According to a 2022 study published in Psychopharmacology, this industrial shift that functions in the absence of tobacco leaves is enough to significantly reduce the global emission of carbon monoxide.
Otherwise, some brands, such as Zyn, also take special care to use a vegan fiber base when creating their pouches to reduce environmental damage when thrown away. However, smokers’ littering habits will also have to be addressed by policymakers. Some states such as Florida have begun tightening their laws on the disposal of cigarette butts along their public beaches and parks, according to WPTV.com. This simultaneously encourages smokers to shift to smokeless products like the aforementioned pouches, gums, lozenges, or patches.
Collective effort will be needed if we are to reduce the decades-long environmental impact of tobacco use. To know more about what you can do to help our environment, check out our other articles in Life Connection Magazine.
Eric David is a freelance writer with a passion for writing about climate change. He believes that action needs to be taken now and hopes his articles convince more people to do their part. When he isn’t writing he can be found in his garden.