On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, we analyze the environmental damage of tobacco and its impact on the planet .
LatinAmerican Post | Luis Ángel Hernández Liborio
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The harmful effects of tobacco on people's health have been extensively studied over the years, going from being an "elegant" practice to a dangerous addiction that kills 8 million people annually, according to data from the Pan American Health Organization. But the effects of smoking are not only limited to human health, it also affects the health of pets, the economy through public health spending and something that would seem obvious but is not: the environment. For this reason, we analyze the main environmental damage caused by tobacco and its repercussions.
Cigarettes and water
What pollutes more a car or a smoker? The logical answer might seem like the car pollutes more if you compare the size of a cigarette versus what a car exhaust can emit. However, in addition to smoke, the cigarette butt has the capacity to contaminate up to 50 liters of water according to data from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas of Mexico. Considering the large number of smokers (1.3 billion according to the Gazette of the National Autonomous University of Mexico) and the number of cigarettes consumed, smoke is just one of its problems, cigarette butts being another just as serious. Two-thirds of them are dumped in areas where the land and water should not be affected due to the thousands of toxic substances present in the cigarette.
PAHO also underlines that 22 billion liters of water are used for the production of cigarettes, from cultivation to the final product, a vital resource that is wasted in an obsolete industry with no practical use for the planet or its inhabitants. Therefore, avoiding the consumption of cigarettes is one of the most important weapons to preserve the natural resources used in this industry and also the repercussions it has on water and other ecosystems.
The innocent cigarette butt that sets fire to forests
Bad smoking habits, such as throwing away burning butts, can seem innocent. However, in addition to producing garbage, if it is thrown in forest areas, a small cigarette butt can cause great disasters. The number of forest fires in the world has become worrying in the context of global warming, a vicious circle that ends millions of hectares of forest . The pollution generated by the fires is added to the 84 million tons of CO2 generated by smokers and, above all, to the irreparable loss of forests. The latent danger that occurs when throwing a burning butt in forest areas is avoided simply by putting out the cigarette correctly and depositing the butt in a correct and safe container.
The butt is not biodegradable
Cigarettes also damage the environment from their origin, tobacco crops pollute the earth due to the chemicals used during their growth, in addition to the serious effects on the health of the people who work on them. Once the final product is consumed, butts end up in the garbage, in rivers, beaches, oceans, forests and fertile land. These filters are not biodegradable, so the damage to nature extends over long periods of up to 25 years according to the Argentine Tobacco Association. The function of butts and the filter they contain is to retain, as far as possible, the toxic substances found in cigarettes, so many of these remain in them and later in the environment. It should be noted that the electronic cigarette is as harmful as the real cigarette and is more polluting because it contains lithium, mercury and plastic.
Measures to end the damage of smoking to the environment
World No Tobacco Day has existed since 1987, for 2022 the main message is #OneEarth in line with other fights against climate change. In the world, the accelerated damage to nature in some regions such as the Amazon seems to only affect South America when the reality is that the damage is for the entire planet, the message of "One Earth" seeks to claim this comprehensive understanding of the planet. Thus, this day seeks not only to end the consumption of tobacco that affects people, but also with its repercussions on nature that ultimately also affect human beings.
Among the actions that are necessary and proposed by the World Health Organization is the responsibility of the companies that are part of the tobacco industry, so that they face the damage caused by it. In most countries, cigarette advertising is prohibited and special taxes are levied to finance public health, but the industry has yet to take responsibility for environmental damage. Another action is support for people in the agricultural sector , especially small producers, to change their crops for other products that are safe and sustainable, this requires support from the private sector, governments and civil society. Finally, the most powerful effect should be achieved by ending the demand for cigarettes, that is, stopping consuming them, this would save millions of liters of water, trees, forests and reduce part of the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Many countries prohibit consumption in closed spaces or with many people such as stadiums, including Mexico and Colombia in Latin America, which limits the space for smoking to only outside, although there is still a long way to go.