Tobacco lays waste to the environment, besides killing 8 million people a year – UN health agency
Tobacco not only kills over eight million people a year, but its consumption also has a devastating impact on the environment.
That’s the message on World No Tobacco Day, marked on 31 May, from the UN health agency which warned that tobacco products are linked to deforestation and biodiversity loss. “The tobacco industry is one of the world’s worst polluters, causing deforestation, water waste, air pollution, and littered beaches, parks and city sidewalks,” said Dr. Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at the World Health Organization (WHO).
To put it into perspective, Dr. Krech explained that “the trees cut down to make way for tobacco growing make up five per cent of global deforestation. An area roughly half the size of Cap Verde disappears every year.” That is a total of 600 million trees chopped down, with 84 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the air, and 22 billion tons of water -that’s about 9 million Olympic-sized swimming pools- used globally to make cigarettes according to WHO.
Make tobacco industry accountable
Cigarettes and e-cigarettes are the primary contributors to the build-up of plastic pollution. Non-biodegradable cigarette butts are the most discarded waste item worldwide and the second-highest form of plastic pollution. With no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits, WHO is calling on policymakers to ban cigarette filters and to make the industry more accountable for the damage it is causing.
“WHO urges countries to create legislation enforcing the tobacco industry to be responsible for cleaning up their deadly tobacco products and paying for damaging the environment. This would spare $240 million for German taxpayers every year, $760 million for Indian taxpayers, and $2.6 billion for Chinese,” Doctor Krech explained.
He added: “Governments should immediately stop subsidizing tobacco growth. Annually, this deadly industry is subsidized with $500 billion which is also taxpayers’ money”.
Countries like France and Spain and cities like San Francisco, in the US have taken a stand. Following the “polluter pays” principle, they have successfully implemented “extended producer responsibility legislation” which makes the tobacco industry responsible for clearing up the pollution it creates. WHO has urged countries and cities to follow this example, while also supporting tobacco farmers to switch to sustainable crops, implement strong tobacco taxes and offer support services to help people quit smoking.