Cigarette smoking has long been recognized as a major public health concern due to its detrimental effects on human health. However, the environmental impact of cigarettes often goes unnoticed. From the cultivation of tobacco to the disposal of cigarette butts, the lifecycle of cigarettes takes a toll on the environment, contributing to pollution, deforestation, and resource depletion.
Cultivation and Deforestation:
Tobacco is estimated to use 4.2 million hectares of fertile land globally which could instead be used to grow healthy foods to combat food insecurity and increase soil health (tobacco requires chemicals that degrade soil). While tobacco only uses a small portion of land, the increase of land used for tobacco has increased in food insecure countries such as China, Malawi, and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Manufacturing and Energy Consumption:
The production of cigarettes involves a resource-intensive manufacturing process, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbating climate change. In 1995, estimated global tobacco manufacturing produced over 2,000,000 tonnes of solid waste, 300,000 tonnes of non-recyclable nicotine-containing waste, and 200,000 tonnes of chemical waste.
Cigarette Butt Pollution:
The pervasive environmental impact of cigarettes is exemplified by the litter created by discarded cigarette butts, composed of non-biodegradable materials that persist in the environment for years. They are the most frequent litter picked up on beaches and water edges globally. Cigarette butts contain harmful substances such as arsenic, lead, nicotine, and ethyl phenol which are then introduced into soil and water and can impact soil and water health.
Waste and Landfills:
Waste not only comes from cigarette butts, however, with the packaging being a large contributor. Packaging includes paper, ink, cellophane, foil, glue and more.
Are vapes/e-cigarettes better?
Vaping devices contribute to electronic waste issues, with batteries and electronic components requiring proper disposal to avoid environmental contamination. While some are reusable, many are single-use and contribute to e-waste.
The production of vaping devices relies on the extraction of metals, contributing to habitat destruction and water pollution during the mining process. This is not only ecologically destructive, but can also have negative social impacts due to a lack of regulation, recycling infrastructure, and training.
While the health risks associated with smoking are well-documented, the environmental implications of tobacco alternatives like vaping are gaining recognition. As consumers, regulators, and manufacturers, it is essential to consider the broader environmental and social consequences of these products and work towards more sustainable alternatives that prioritize both human health and the well-being of our planet.