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Environmental impact of tobacco use


Smokers are now faced with another reason to quit smoking: a smoke print that has a massive worldwide environmental impact.

The “it’s my body and I can smoke if I like” case was extinguished by the recognition of the dangers of second-hand smoke. Now smokers are faced with another reason to quit smoking: a smoke print that has a massive worldwide environmental impact.

According to a Health Canada report, domestic cigarette manufacturers produced approximately 41.3 billion cigarettes in 2002. Imagine, 41 billion cigarette butts. As butts are not organic, they do not biodegrade. They linger. One can find butts littered on streets, beaches—practically everywhere.

The visual impact

Those 41 billion butts paint an overwhelming image. However, this does not take into consideration the amassed waste from the byproducts of tobacco use—packaging, matches, and lighters.

Smoking litter is known to create more litter. Cigarette butts socialize with gum wrappers and discarded pop cans in streets far and wide. It is called the “gateway theory?once waste appears, more waste will follow. Tobacco product waste is a certainty, like death and taxes.

The environmental impact

Cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate, which is not a biodegradable material. It can take up to three years or more for a cigarette butt to degrade. While a cigarette filter reduces the amount of tar and smoke inhaled into the lungs of a smoker, it also traps toxic chemicals. During the years it takes for the filter to break down, toxic chemicals leach into the ground and the waterways, creating devastating environmental pollution.

The impact of cigarette butts on rivers, lakes, and coastal waters is detrimental to marine life. Animals and birds perceive the butts as food, not poison. The ingestion of butts causes unnecessary malnutrition, starvation, and poisoning. Biologists routinely find cigarette butts in the stomachs of sick or dead birds, turtles, and even dolphins.

Lower down the food chain, the environmental impact is equally disturbing. Nicotine found in cigarette butts is lethal to zooplankton and crustaceans. The fragile balance of the aquatic ecosystem is in danger due to the careless disposal of butts.

In many developing countries, the farming of tobacco is creating another crisis—deforestation. Wood is used to build curing barns and is also used as fuel to cure the tobacco leaves. An estimated 200,000 hectares of trees are cut for tobacco farming each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Child and adult workers on tobacco farms in developing countries experience the human impact of tobacco farming. They may suffer from Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS). Absorbing nicotine through the skin from handling wet tobacco leaves causes this illness whose symptoms include weakness, dizziness, and nausea. It makes one wonder whether it is morally responsible to smoke.

The atmospheric impact

Of the 599 ingredients approved by the US government for use in the manufacture of cigarettes, there are a few components that jump off the recipe page. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. Arsenic is a metal found in insecticide. Phosphorus is a mineral found in laundry detergent, and ammonia is found in household cleaners.

Over 4,000 chemical compounds are released into the atmosphere when a cigarette is burned. These chemicals pass through Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) into the outdoor atmosphere. ETS, also known as second-hand smoke, is emitted by the puffing of an active smoker and also by the smouldering tobacco between puffs.

ETS rises to a certain height and then descends. This is because the particles and gases in ETS are heavier than air. Thus, the chemical particles loiter in the air, waiting to be breathed into the lungs.

Despite these facts, smokers continue to light up. The World Health Organization projects that the number of worldwide smokers will rise from the current 1.3 billion to 1.7 billion by 2025 (partly due to population growth) if the frequency of tobacco use does not change. That is a tremendous number of smokers emitting ETS into the atmosphere on a daily basis.

The argument, “it’s my body and my choice to smoke,” is a self-centred case. Tobacco’s smoke print creates an immense burden on the environment and the atmosphere. Smoking is a personal choice, but the impact of its smoke print is felt all over the global village.

Quit now!

These resources can provide information to help you quit smoking:



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