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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Environmental impact of cigarettes

Approximately 267 billion cigarettes were smoked in 2015. This might be a shocking number for some, considering how much smoking has lessened in recent years, as we’ve become more aware of the drastic negative health impacts. There are still a lot of cigarettes being made and used each year though … and the negative impacts don’t just apply to our health. Smoking also is contributing drastically to environmental degradation.

The making of cigarettes is one issue. Trees have to be cleared in order to grow tobacco and to cure it. Around 600 million trees get chopped down every year by the tobacco industry. The process of curing and processing the tobacco alone “is highly energy intensive, using coal or wood burning that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Tobacco production also uses more than 22 billion tonnes of water.” On top of that, about four miles worth of paper is used up hourly in order to package tobacco. That’s a lot of water and trees getting used up.

The growth of tobacco also impacts the land. Tobacco requires far more potassium than other plants—around 600% of what most other cultures need. After the trees are cleared and the tobacco begins to grow, the plants can only grow on the land for so long before they’ve depleted the soil of nutrients. Past that point, nothing can grow there. That becomes an even greater issue when you take into account that the “largest tobacco manufacturing countries have undernourishment numbers that go up to 27%.” Underprivileged people in poor countries are being convinced to use up their land for tobacco instead of food … and they aren’t getting much in return for their efforts. The amount of land used currently to grow tobacco could instead be utilized to grow enough food to feed around 20 million people. Instead, the average tobacco farmer in Kenya is only bringing home approximately $120 yearly.

Production of cigarettes also results in huge amounts of chemicals and pollution. “In 2015, 1,312,796 pounds of toxic chemicals were reported disposed of, or otherwise released, from tobacco facilities.” The tobacco industry also releases so much carbon dioxide into the air that “shutting down the tobacco industry equates to taking 16 million cars off the streets every single year.” Finally, there’s the issue of pesticides. The common use of chemicals such as Aldicarb, Chlorpyrifos, Imidacloprid, and Methyl Bromide have been shown to be highly toxic to humans and other animals, as well as contribute to ozone depletion. “These pesticides contaminate water and soil and there are up to 5 million cases of pesticide poisoning reported worldwide every year.”

Now, we turn to the impact of actually smoking cigarettes. Around “98 percent of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers (cellulose acetate) that are tightly packed together, which leads to an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts winding up as toxic trash each year.” Cellulose acetate does not biodegrade easily—it takes rough circumstances and years for it to break down. As it does so, the chemicals within leak into the land or water that surrounds it. Studies have shown that nicotine can be soaked up and even “inhaled” by plants, while residual pesticides and even metal leak from discarded cigarette butts as well. All of this toxic waste impacts the land and life around it. “In one laboratory study, the chemicals that leached from a single cigarette butt (soaked for 24 hours in a liter of water) released enough toxins to kill 50 percent of the saltwater and freshwater fish exposed to it for 96 hours.”

There is also the fact that second-hand smoke is hugely detrimental to air pollution and human health. In a previous article, I described how second-hand smoke contributes to risk of cancer, asthma issues, heart disease, etc. Second-hand smoke contains 4,000 chemical compounds in it, most of which are toxic to humans and other life forms. A minimum of 70 of those chemicals have been acknowledged to be carcinogenic, by the American Cancer Society.

There’s no denying the vast negative impacts that the tobacco industry and cigarette smoking has on the world around us. If you care about your own life, the lives of others, and the planet that we live on … don’t buy a pack of cigarettes. Create the change that you want to see in the world and stop the poisoning of our environment.

*Note: If you have an addiction, UMass Boston has a Recovery Support Program on campus. You can contact them by writing to [email protected] or going to www.umb.edu/recovery 





4. https://tobaccofreelife.org/why-quit-smoking/smoking-effects/smoking-environmental-risks/