Qu: Having read your answer on the effect of patio heaters (last bastion of the smoker) on global warming I wondered what the effect of the 6 billion cigarettes smoked annually around the world has on the global environment?
Let the anti-ciggie tirade begin! Starting at the end and working backwards seems appropriate as cigarettes are most obviously harmful to the environment when discarded, marring the view as they lie scattered beneath the fore mentioned patio heaters.
Sadly, cigarette butts are most often than not thrown to the floor and left as litter. It is estimated that over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are irresponsibly disposed of annually, making them the most littered item in the world.
There seems to be a general consensus (ask any smoker) that cigarettes are bio-degradable over a 25 year period– however this figure is debatable and some experts doubt that the filters will ever degrade. Even as they break down cigarettes are harmful as they release the 4,000 chemicals that they contain, contaminating the soil or rivers, lakes and ocean that they are washed into. Wildlife is also affected as these toxins enter the food chain and many creatures fatally consume the indigestible fibers. Cigarette packaging is often littered as well; in the UK alone, each day, 122 tonnes of cigarette related debris is thrown out.
As they are smoked they are an environmental nuisance, as 90% of their smoke gets into the atmosphere, adding to air pollution (remember the days that you couldn’t even see to the bar when you walked into your local) and having a negative impact on the health of anyone nearby.
If you think all that is bad then wait till you hear about the environmental impact of cigarettes. It is estimated that up to 200 000 hectares, usually in the developing world, are cleared to make room for tobacco farming every year. The sensitive tobacco plants are then treated with a nasty cocktail of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to protect them from insects and disease. Tobacco farms are often by villages and, when the chemicals inevitably leak into the soil, they begin to poison the waterways, ecological systems, crops, and livestock in the surrounding communities. Tobacco uses more nutrients than several other crops, and this quickly degrades the surrounding soil. It is also believed that the toxic chemicals may indirectly cause the development of pesticide-resistant mosquitoes and flies.
Living by a tobacco farm is no fun then, but this gets a whole lot worse if you’re unlucky enough to be one of the workers harvesting the plants. When the wet leaves are picked nicotine can be absorbed through the skin resulting in nicotine poisoning. This ‘green tobacco sickness’ causes dizziness, nausea, vomiting and breathing difficulties and affects 41% of workers every season.
On top of the land clearance for tobacco planting we must also take into account the trees that are felled to process the leaves and to produce the wrapping and packaging for cigarettes. Nearly one hectare of forest is needed to dry every hectare of tobacco meaning that over 600 million trees are destroyed annually for this purpose. On top of that six kilometers of paper is used per hour by the machines that roll and package cigarettes!
And then there is tobacco’s contribution to world hunger. According to Dr Judith MacKay, Director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control in Hong Kong, tobacco’s “minor” use of land denies 10 to 20 million people of food.
Anyone fancy popping out for a smoke? Didn’t think so!
Thanks to these links for the above information.