The CHEM-ELEON iPhone app



Listen to your Mother (earth): Don't Smoke


Everyone is familiar with tobacco harm reduction campaigns that emphasize the negative health effects of smoking, but relatively few people know the true extent of the environmental damage that cigarette use causes. It may come as a surprise to learn that the ecological impacts of cigarettes are just as concerning as their health risks, and carry long term consequences that could prove far more severe for both humans and the planet we inhabit.

It’s the poison-laden smoke from combusting tobacco that hurts us when we light a cigarette, but this smoke is only one of the numerous injuries inflicted on our natural world as a result of tobacco use. Here are several of the many reasons why, if you love your country and your planet, saying no smoking is a compassionate choice.

Smoking and Litter

For over 15 years, cigarette butts have been the most common rubbish found during the cleanup of public areas in Australia, making up a staggering 19.5% of rubbish that is picked up on beaches, in parks, and throughout public areas.

The Butt Littering Trust (a tobacco company funded organisation) estimates that around seven billion cigarette butts become litter each year in Australia alone. Not only does this make cleanup efforts more difficult, but these cigarette butts take up to 12 years to break down, giving the toxic residue within the filters plenty of time to leach into the water and soil.

Tobacco companies have taken steps to promote anti-littering initiatives across Australia, yet according to the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation, these efforts have done little practical good. The most effective way to reduce the amount of cigarette butts that become litter is through reducing the source of the problem: the number of people who smoke.

Smoking and Deforestation

While one end result of smoking is increased amounts of litter, we have to take a step back to really understand the damage that the tobacco industry does to our planet. The first place that smoking becomes harmful to the environment is during the tobacco growth and production phase.

Tobacco production requires the removal of an estimated 600 million trees every year. This is not only for growing the tobacco crops themselves, though. It can take over three kilograms of wood to smoke-cure a single kilogram of export-ready tobacco. In all, tobacco cultivation accounts for 2-4% of deforestation that takes place on our planet on an annual basis, and thus contributes significantly to global warming, soil erosion, and the endangerment of wildlife species.

Smoking and the Developing World

The global demand for tobacco places a heavy burden on the populations of the predominantly developing countries where the plant is commercially grown and harvested. With little in the way of health laws in place to protect them, local agricultural workers are at high risk of contracting poisoning sickness from prolonged handling of tobacco leaves that are routinely sprayed with toxic pesticides.

In addition, tobacco cultivation consumes 5.3 million hectares of arable land, which if was instead used for food crops could feed up to twenty million people. Many small tobacco farmers struggle to make ends meet with this so-called “cash crop”, as the vast majority of profits from tobacco production in third world countries are funelled back into large overseas companies.

Smoking and Waste

Every manufacturing operation produces waste of some sort. While all waste should be minimised as a basic principle of sustainability, the most environmentally hazardous variant is chemical waste. In 1992, when the tobacco industry was ranked 18th on the list of industrial chemical waste producers, tobacco manufacturing produced more than 27 million kilograms of hazardous chemical waste. Of this waste, 2.2 million kilograms were disposed of in the open environment.

That’s not even considering the “regular” non-hazardous waste which is a by-product of tobacco production. According to the World Health Organisation, in 1995 the tobacco industry produced an estimated 2.3 billion kilograms of manufacturer waste. This was in addition to the chemical waste and littered cigarette butts already mentioned above.

Help A Mother Out

Deforestation, chemical waste, litter, dangerous and unethical farming practices – whichever way you look at it, Mother Earth doesn’t look kindly on smoking! If you currently smoke cigarettes and have been thinking about quitting, now you have another weapon in your arsenal of reasons to kick this habit. Not only will your body, your family, your friends and your finances thank you for taking a stand against tobacco, so too will our planet have many reasons to feel grateful.

Alisha Young is a writer, health nut and sci-fi nerd. As the founder of the electronic cigarettes brand Genecigs, she believes that business and sustainability go hand in hand. When not trying her hand at healthy food creations or waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones to start, Alisha blogs about her passions for clean living, health education and tobacco harm reduction.


What do you think?