Earth Day was born 43 years ago in the U.S. to bring attention to the damaging effect pollution was having on our environment. Much has happened since 1970 to clean up our environment in the U.S. and around the world, but the tobacco industry is still polluting on a global scale. That smoked cigarette casually tossed onto the ground is a major contributor of pollution from before the tobacco was planted to its discarded butt.
In many developing countries, land is cleared of trees to make way for agriculture. But instead of planting food to feed their families or to sell in markets to feed others, farmers plant tobacco. While their crop may provide money in their pockets, it is not a sustainable form of farming. Once picked, the tobacco leaves need to be cured and many of the farmers use wood to dry or cure the leaves. “One hectare of forest is needed to dry every hectare of tobacco.” (1 hectare = 2.471 acres). Approximately five million hectares or 600 million trees are destroyed for this process worldwide. These figures do not include the trees cut down to produce the paper used in the cigarette, the packaging or any advertising. In less developed countries using wood to dry tobacco means less wood for cooking and heating.
Although tobacco plants produce a natural insect repellent in the form of nicotine, farms apply pesticides, herbicides to kill weeds, and fertilizers to help the plant grow. These chemicals are used in high concentrations and contaminate the water through runoff into streams and rivers. (The chemicals used in the U.S. are not necessarily used on tobacco in other countries.)
Once tobacco is harvested and dried, it is sold to manufacturers that make it into tobacco products such as the paper tube commonly known as a cigarette. One end of the tube contains a filter, the most littered part of the cigarette. In fact “as many as 5.6 trillion cigarettes…are deposited into the environment worldwide every year.”
The tobacco industry would like smokers to think that these filers break down, or biodegrade over a few years, but that is not the case. They also “fear being held responsible for cigarette litter,” and so they should. This littered waste is costing American municipalities millions of dollars in cleanup efforts every year. San Francisco, California estimates it costs the city $7.4 million each year, and imposed a “waste fee” of $0.20 per pack to cigarettes sold in the city. Not only is the butt waste unattractive, the toxins in the filters leach out and kill fish and other wildlife that mistake them for food.
Land is deforested, creating erosion and decreased oxygen levels. Chemicals are added to the soil resulting in toxic runoff and clean water contamination. The end product produces toxins and litter resulting in millions of dollars in clean up, not to mean the toxins in the pollution that takes place when the product is smoked. All this for a product that provide no nutritional value and shortens your lifespan. So what part of a cigarette is friendly?