When it comes to the adverse effects of chronic smoking and cigarettes, the focus is usually on the human body and its health. But did you know that smoking and cigarettes, particularly cigarette manufacturing, do great harm to the environment, too? Mother Nature also suffers from cigarette smoke and the waste brought by cigarettes, and she’s been suffering a long time. It’s time to shed some light on how cigarettes and chronic smoking really impacts the state of our environment today.
The damage caused by cigarette manufacturing
Even just the manufacture of cigarettes harms the environment more than you think. Cigarette manufacturing methods, starting with the tobacco growing process, brings great damage to the environment in the form of deforestation and environmental run-offs.
As an industry, tobacco manufacturing has a large environmental footprint. Farming and processing tobacco plants requires the use of machines and chemicals, all of which harm the environment. Of course, once the cigarettes are ready for sale, they have to be transported to stores, making the tobacco industry’s carbon footprint even heavier.
Keep all this in mind the next time you stock up on cigarettes to fuel your nicotine addiction.
Runoff and waste from tobacco growing and processing
The process of making the tobacco plant into the cigarettes you love is time-consuming and complicated. To grow, cure, and transport tobacco, manufacturers must use chemicals, which strips the soil of minerals and nutrients. For instance, one chemical most often used in tobacco production is Aldicarb. Aldicarb is highly toxic to animals and humans.
The waste produced in the cigarette manufacturing process often comprises a wide variety of harmful chemicals, too, like dithane DF, methyl bromide, and imidacloprid. Frequent exposure to these toxins negatively affects plants, animals, and humans.
The bad news is that cigarette manufacturing, and the corresponding waste it produces, shows no signs of slowing down. Since 1995, the tobacco industry has produced more than 2200 million kilograms of manufacturing waste annually. Add to that 209 million kilograms of chemical waste each year.
Air pollution from tobacco farming
Aside from the environmental run-offs, air pollution is another harmful effect of tobacco farming on the environment.
Before tobacco fields can be planted, large, industrial machines are used to prepare the fields. More machines are responsible for maintaining the growth of the tobacco fields. Still more machines are utilized to cut the tobacco plants and prepare the leaves for curing. All these machines release harmful toxins into the atmosphere, greatly contributing to air pollution. The curing process for the leaves, which is carried out via special-made furnaces or wood-burning fires, also emits toxic chemicals into the air.
Plus, chemicals and other pesticides are usually added to the soil on tobacco fields to mitigate the loss of crops. Some companies even utilize crop dusting, which adds to the toxins in the atmosphere. In some cases, the pesticide used in crop dusting harms helpful insect species and microorganisms that ensure soil health.
It’s not surprising that cigarette manufacturing has resulted in deforestation in many countries all over the world. After all, cigarette manufacturers must meet the high demand for cigarettes and other tobacco products. Unfortunately, this supply-and-demand chain comes at the cost of natural forests and wooded areas.
Tanzania, for instance, saw major deforestation when large parts of the country’s rainforests were cut down to make way for tobacco fields. Tanzanian farmers themselves, many of whom have been growing tobacco since the 1980s, can’t deny the reality of deforestation in their country. Dense forests that separated villages have been completely cleared to establish and expand tobacco fields.
Many developing countries like Tanzania also dry out tobacco leaves using fires stoked by trees from felled forests and wooded areas. Imagine how many trees this must take, as cigarette manufacturing is often done on a large scale.
The 1995 Bellagio statement on current global trends in the production and consumption of tobacco indicates that tobacco not just harms human health but is also a detriment to environmental sustainability in developing countries. After all, deforestation does not merely mean the cutting down of large numbers of trees; it also means stripping areas of local flora and fauna. It’s a chain effect: when there are few plants left for animals to forage, animal populations may start to die out as well.
The damage caused by cigarette butts
Smokers cause even more damage to the environment through the improper disposal of cigarette butts. Where there’s a smoking area, you’re sure to find a bunch of cigarette butts lying around, even if a trash can is available. In fact, an annual worldwide survey by the Ocean Conservancy discovered that cigarette filters were the most common forms of litter. The results have remained the same for the past twenty years.
You probably think that the small, inch-long cigarette butt can’t possibly do much damage to the environment, and that’s where you’re wrong. These ubiquitous waste products end up in more places than the street; sometimes they find their way to waterways, shorelines, and wetlands, where they can wreak more havoc.
Contamination of waterways
Cigarette butts have become a big enough problem for waterways all over the world that, in the International Coastal Cleanup has been making annual efforts to rid beaches and waterways of this cigarette waste. In 2008, the International Coastal Cleanup managed to finally dispose of nearly 3.2 million cigarette butts littering beaches and waterways around the world. The following year, cigarette butts and other bits of cigarette waste made up twice the amount of all other debris.
What’s particularly alarming about the presence of cigarette butts in waterways is their negative effect on marine life. These small bits of waste can be eaten by fish and other marine animals, particularly since cigarette butts bear some resemblances to worms or insects. A US study also discovered that the runoff caused by just once cigarette butt was toxic enough to kill a fish living in a one-liter container of water.
The problem is that not just one cigarette butt litters waterways. Millions of cigarette butts dropped on the ground can make their way to waterways, posing a real threat to marine life.
Possible animal poisoning
Have dogs or cats that you regularly take out for walks? If so, it’s in your best interest to watch out for cigarette butts littered on the ground. Cats and dogs can be poisoned when they consume cigarette butts they find on the ground, and the small amount of nicotine left in the cigarette butts may be enough to seriously injure or even kill your pet.
Plus, did you know that cigarette smoke can also cause or trigger asthma in small pets? Not only that, prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke can also cause cancer in your pets. Rats are especially prone to respiratory problems from exposure to cigarette smoke.
Cigarette butts are not biodegradable
Many smokers seem to forget that cigarette butts are not biodegradable, even though tobacco itself will break down over time. Other ingredients found in cigarettes, particularly those found in filters, are not biodegradable.
Cigarette filters are made from a plastic called cellulose acetate, which will break down when exposed to UV rays. The photo-degrading process, however, takes a long time. And even when the filter is photodegraded, some pieces of the original plastic material stay in the ground indefinitely. Recent research indicates that it can take one cigarette butt up to 10 years to be completely broken down. Imagine how long the process would take for the millions of cigarette butts littering the ground all over the world.
Since cigarette butts spend a long time in the ground, these bits of cigarette waste have a lot of time to cause a negative impact on wildlife, pets, and even kids. Thousands of kids have been poisoned by the consumption of cigarette butts they’ve found lying in the ground. You’ll have to keep a closer watch on toddlers, though, as toddlers typically put objects in their mouths out of curiosity. Kids who’ve consumed cigarette butts may show symptoms of vomiting, unusual blood pressure levels, lethargy, nausea, gagging, and pale complexion.
Cigarette butts can cause fires
Improperly discarded cigarette butts can also cause fires, in the forest or otherwise. The large fires caused by cigarette butts are a major source of air pollution. Aside from polluting the atmosphere, forest fires also cause large-scale deforestation. These fires can even grow too intense or spread too widely for man-made efforts to contain. In China, for instance, a dropped cigarette butt caused a huge forest fire in 1987. Aside from destroying 1.3 million hectares of land, the fire ended up killing 300 people and left 5,000 others homeless. Local fauna was either killed or displaced, causing a ripple effect in China’s ecology.
Aside from forest fires, cigarettes also cause many residential fires, which can occur when a smoker falls asleep and inadvertently drops a burning cigarette on the floor. Authorities even estimate that as many as 17,000 people worldwide die from cigarette- or lighter-caused fires each year. More than $27 billion’s worth of property is damaged by cigarette-caused fires annually.
If you live with a smoker or you’re a smoker yourself, it follows that you’re at a greater risk of injury or even death from fires caused by cigarettes or lighters. Many smokers and their family members have died in residential fires because they did not wake up in time to escape.
What the tobacco industry is doing about it
The tobacco industry has made considerable efforts in making the tobacco farming and manufacturing process more environmentally friendly. For instance, Japan Tobacco International, a leading international tobacco product manufacturer, has implemented the distribution of biodegradable pocket ashtrays at events all over Japan.
What Japan Tobacco International may not realize – or perhaps the company realizes it but does not care enough – is that these ashtrays are still going to contribute to the waste in landfills and will continue to contribute to the waste that negatively affects the environment.
Many environmentalists think that these green efforts by major manufacturers of tobacco products are merely for show and for public relations purposes, rather than to truly reduce the impact of the tobacco industry on the environment. This is why it’s likely up to smokers to really make the move in terms of protecting the environment from the harm caused by the tobacco industry.
Now that you know how just how much the manufacture and improper disposal of cigarettes impacts the environment, you have even more reason to quit smoking once and for all. Keep in mind that smoking is not only bad for your health and people that come in contact with second hand smoke but also it has an environmental impact.