The experts say smoking hurts you and those around you, and it is true. But did you know that tobacco is also responsible for hurting the environment in ways that go beyond tobacco litter on the streets? Every step of tobacco production, from planting and harvesting to the end user throwing the discarded tobacco product on the street, impacts the environment in some way. Whether you are a tobacco user or not, it still affects your way of life. Take a moment to think about this as you celebrate Earth Day 2017 on Saturday.
First of all, farmers need land to plant. While farmers in the U.S. don’t cut down forests to plant the tobacco, that is exactly what is happening in other countries. Compared to food crops, tobacco crops quickly deplete the soil of its nutrients, causing farmers to continue cutting down forests for additional farm land. When it comes time to harvest the plants, more trees are cut down to supply the wood for curing the tobacco leaves by burning, adding to pollution. According to one article, “tobacco farming accounts for about 1% of land use, yet causes a disproportionate 2-4% of global deforestation.” When the land no longer becomes viable, farmers move on, but the land remains bare turning it into deserts
During the growing phase, tobacco harms the environment because of the large amounts of chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers which are required and can run off and hurt water sources causing pollution. When cigarettes are smoked and discarded, they again pollute the environment and harm wildlife by leaching toxins into streams, rivers and lakes.
That little cigarette when smoked inside produces some of the most toxic chemicals resulting in pollution that is “higher than the federal air quality standards designed to protect public health…” The smoke is comprised of particulate matter making it easy to see, but many of the gases, such as benzene, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, are invisible. And taking the smoke outside isn’t any better. The EPA has standards and guidelines for outdoor levels of pollution as well which is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air; just one cigarette can produce 300 micrograms per cubic meter of pollution.
Cigarettes may be small, but discarded butts are the world’s number one source of litter. The filters are made of cellulose acetate and take between 12 and 15 years to decompose. All those chemicals and heavy metals such as barium, chromium and lead, remain in the discarded cigarette and then leach out into soil and water.
Everyone seems to have an answer to global warming, but no one seems to be looking into how tobacco plays its part. It gives us deforestation and desertification. It causes fertilizers, pesticides, radiation and heavy metals to leach into our environment and pollute our air, land and water. Discarded butts are the number one source of litter throughout the world. And carelessness with a tossed cigarette produces about 10% of the world’s forest fires. One writer described cigarette smoking as “an act of human carelessness.” We couldn’t agree more.