We’re all aware of the harms of smoking cigarettes. There are plenty of anti-smoking campaigns out there telling us that it causes cancer, is awful for our lungs, teeth and more. Though an increasing number of people are switching to nicotine replacement therapy to improve their own health, for many, this is not motivation enough. What most people don’t know is that the harmful effects of smoking reach far beyond our own bodily health. In fact, they spread right across the world, throughout whole environments and ecosystems.
That’s right: the tobacco industry and cigarettes massively impact the environment in so many different ways. Right from the pollutants that are left behind when you smoke a cigarette, all the way back to the fossil fuels that are emitted by tobacco farming. If you needed another reason to quit smoking (as if your own health wasn’t enough) then take a read of this article, where we’ll discuss the full extent to which your smoking habit causes harm to our environment.
Let’s start with the obvious yet still extremely serious impact that smoke from each puffed cigarette has on the air around us. Many people think that smoking outdoors is safe, but research has shown that air quality is significantly lessened in pedestrian areas with lots of smokers. This is because smoking emits toxic gasses such as methane and carbon dioxide into the air, diminishing the oxygen quality significantly for those who are breathing it.
The decreased quality of air is concentrated in compact cities with high numbers of smokers, such as major cities across Europe and Japan. This being said, the overall quality of the air in our atmosphere overall has been significantly affected by the amount of smoke that is concentrated in these areas.
So many smokers get into an awful habit of littering their cigarette butts on the street at the end of a smoke session. Cigarette butts are the most commonly littered item in the USA and 38% of collected litter has been found to comprise of cigarette butts alone. This isn’t really even surprising considering smokers are estimated to litter a huge 65% of their cigarette butts.
The soft ends of the cigarettes may feel like they’re made of paper and will biodegrade, but this is far from the truth! Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate which filters tar and tobacco before you inhale. This material is wrapped in either paper or rayon for longevity. Although cellulose acetate is technically a biodegradable material, it takes an extremely long time to degrade—it can stick around for up to 10 years.
On top of this, many filters are discarded with small amounts of tobacco still attached to them. This causes nicotine to find its way into our environments, which is incredibly toxic and a direct threat to wildlife. Most smokers consider their cigarette butts to be too small to be significant or cause any real damage, but this number is multiplied by each and every cigarette of every smoker all around the world living equally as carelessly with their litter.
Let’s face it: cigarettes are far from just plain ol’ tobacco anymore. As well as the actual cigarette butt itself, pollution occurs from the long list of chemicals added to cigarettes when they are inevitably littered. There are chemicals added to cigarettes for a number of reasons: to control the burn rate, to keep filters white in color, to alter the taste, and even to create the look of ash as the cigarette burns. A master list was created of all the additives used in the American cigarette manufacturing process which amounted to 599 items.
Although humans are immune enough to the toxins involved in cigarettes that we can still develop a habit for them, the rest of our ecosystem is not so lucky. Cigarette waste can easily pollute soil, waterways and beaches. It is incredibly toxic to wildlife as the chemicals that seep out are known to cause hydrocarbons which can be carcinogenic.
We may not realize it when we litter, but even in urban environments, there are ecosystems other than us that struggle to survive when confronted with cigarette pollution. When cigarettes pollute waterways through city drainage systems, the organic compounds that seep out of them are acutely toxic to all the sea life, including vital microorganisms and big fish alike. When these compounds get into our soils, they can be directly harmful to city landscaping endeavors, such as parks and other greenery, not to mention polluting the grass that our domestic animals interact with on a closer level than us.
On a more industrial level, tobacco manufacturing greatly contributes to deforestation around the globe. A global assessment of tobacco farming in relation to deforestation conducted in 1999 found that 200, 000 hectares of forests are removed by tobacco farming each year.
The amount of land used to farm tobacco currently sits at 5.3 million hectares as of 2019. This is all land that could be used for rainforests that enhance the earth’s oxygen quality, or crops of food to feed up to 20 million people.
Tobacco farming leaves a whole list of adverse effects on the land. It is a sensitive crop and so requires an enormous amount of manual labor, pesticides and resources to grow. It is farmed as what is known as a monoculture, which, once harvested, leaves the land it was grown on depleted of nutrients and unable to cultivate in the future.
‘How does this factor have any correlation to the average person’s smoking habit?’ You may ask. It’s all a matter of supply and demand: the more packs of cigarettes smokers are buying, the higher the demand for more tobacco to be grown to fuel smoking habits. Giving up smoking may not seem like it can make much of a difference, but every single person who gives up is lessening the demand for this product to be manufactured.
From pesticides used in tobacco farming, to the collection of chemicals involved in the whole process from plant to cigarette, the tobacco manufacturing process is riddled with toxic waste. All of the chemicals used in making cigarettes hold a hefty cost to our environment.
The washing process of tobacco plants excrete pesticides into our waterways at an alarming rate, and factories where cigarettes are produced are not regulated to nearly the extent at which they should be when it comes to the generation of toxic wastes and correct disposal of them.
This isn’t even to mention the toxic end-product of the cigarette itself, which—as previously stated—is then littered again, causing the remaining forms of the cigarette to contribute further to this environmental harm. It is a vicious cycle of waste and more waste.
The tobacco industry has been around in the way it is now since the 1700’s, and it has been consistent in its size in response to the public demand. Despite serious concerns that smoking causes grave danger to our health, the health of those around us and the health of the planet itself, it is still a popular industry. The main thing anyone can do to prevent the environmental harms that are caused by the tobacco industry, is to stop smoking and encourage those around you to do the same. Decreasing the demand for tobacco products is really the only sure-fire way that we, as individuals, can promote any change to this industry.
No matter how much you care about the planet, smoking is addictive, and can therefore be challenging to quit the habit, and we get that. Here at Kea Health, we want to create a healthy, smoke-free environment for you by providing you with the right quit smoking aids to assist your personal journey. Find out which NRT is right for you by taking our short quiz.