New Report Raises Alarm on Tobacco Industry Environmental Impact

ADDIS ABABA – The World Health Organization (WHO) report has today revealed new information on the extent to which tobacco damages both the environment and human health, calling for steps to make the industry more accountable for the destruction it is causing.

Every year the tobacco industry costs the world more than 8 million human lives, 600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 84 million tonnes of CO2. 

The majority of tobacco is grown in low-and-middle-income countries, where water and farmland are often desperately needed to produce food for the region. 

Instead, they are being used to grow deadly tobacco plants, while more and more land is being cleared of forests, said the WHO report “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet”.

“The most littered item”

The report looked into the industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing and transporting tobacco. 

The sector’s carbon emissions, it says, is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing to global warming.

“Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.

“Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year,” the director added.

Products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes also add to the build-up of plastic pollution. The report says Cigarette filters contain microplastics and make up the second-highest form of plastic pollution worldwide. 

– Call for cigarette filter ban –

Despite tobacco industry marketing, there is no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits, said the UN health agency.

WHO calls on policy-makers to treat cigarette filters, as what they are, single-use plastics, urging them to consider banning cigarette filters to protect public health and the environment.

The costs of cleaning up littered tobacco products fall on taxpayers, rather than the industry creating the problem. 

Each year, this costs China roughly 2.6 billion US Dollars and India roughly 766 million US Dollars. The cost for Brazil and Germany come in at over 200 million US dollars.

In Africa, the same issue costs South Africa more than 117 million US Dollars.

– Some taking steps –

Countries like France and Spain and cities like San Francisco, California in the US have taken a stand.

Following the Polluter Pays Principle, they have successfully implemented ‘extended producer responsibility legislation’ which makes the tobacco industry responsible for clearing up the pollution it creates. 

Countries and cities need to follow this example, said the WHO.

The agency also advised them to give support to tobacco farmers to switch to sustainable crops, implement strong tobacco taxes, including imposing an environmental tax, and offer support services to help people quit tobacco.