Smoking is very bad for health and the environment

Cigarette smoking is the bane of any society, causing 6 million deaths every year worldwide while more than 600,000 of those deaths were among non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Even the total number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined is lower than the total number of deaths caused by smoking as reported in a infographic titled Stop Smoking: It’s Deadly and Bad for the Economy published by The World Bank.

Furthermore, smoking cost the worldwide economy more than US$ 1.4 trillion every year as a result of productivity loss stemming from missed workdays due to smoking-related illness and smoke breaks.

But that is not the only harm brought on by smoking and the wider tobacco industry.

Six trillion cigarettes are produced in 2014. Their production has a major impact on the environment through climate change, water and land use, and toxicity as shown in a report authored by scientists from Imperial College London, which was launched at a meeting of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on 2 October 2018.

The whole lifecycle of green tobacco cultivation, processing, and manufacturing released approximately 84 million tonnes (Mt) of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. It is just to make six trillion cigarettes. And, that makes the annual carbon footprint of tobacco nearly as high as entire countries such as Peru and Israel. A further breakdown revealed the following:

  • The farming stage of tobacco drives more than 70% of the environmental damage from the use of irrigation and fertilisers while also contributing more than 20 Mt of GHG globally.
  • The curing process (to dry tobacco) releases at least 45 Mt of GHG due to the direct burning of wood and coal.
  • The manufacturing stage releases more than 15 Mt of GHG.

Other than warming up the planet, tobacco production also consumes 22 billion tonnes of water. This amount of water consumed could have been better used for other kind of crops that humans actually need such as potato, wheat or rice. 5.3 million hectares of arable land, which could be better used for growing of food crop, are also used by cigarettes factories and to cultivate green tobacco.

In addition, the supply chain for the 6 trillion cigarettes also output 25 million tonnes of solid waste, which include hazardous waste and post-consumer cigarette butts.

And that is not all the harm caused by tobacco.

The smoking of one million cigarettes (which contains about one tonne of dry tobacco) contribute to the following:

  1. Terrestrial acidification that is equivalent to the release of 76 kg of Sulphur Dioxide.
  2. Eutrophication of freshwater and marine that is equivalent to the release of 2.7 kg of Phosphorus and 3.5 kg of Nitrogen respectively.
  3. Human exposure to toxic chemicals that is equivalent to 3,250 kg of 1,4-Dichlorobenzene (1,4-DB), and that is excluding direct health effect from first- and second-hand smoke, and occupational exposure.
  4. Terrestrial exposure to toxic chemicals that is equivalent to 6.1 kg of 1,4-DB
  5. Freshwater exposure to toxic chemicals that is equivalent to 82 kg of 1,4-DB
  6. Marine exposure to toxic chemicals that is equivalent to 79 kg of 1,4-DB

The numbers equally do not paint a pretty picture at an individual level. The total environmental footprint of a smoker who smokes a pack of 20 cigarettes a day for 50 years is as follows:

  1. Depletion of 1.4 million litres of water, which is equivalent to 62 years of water supply for any three people’s basic needs.
  2. Carbon footprint of 5.1 tonnes of CO2, which is offset by planting of 132 trees and allow them to grow for ten years.
  3. Depletion of 1.3 tonnes of fossil fuel, which can be used to power an average household in India for 15 years.

Tobacco consumption is basically robbing the future generations of better life because it contributes to climate change and the depletion of natural resources that leads to conflicts. And, the majority of tobacco are cultivated in developing nations. Combine that with tobacco’s naturally low yield, small producers are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.

So unless governments around the world jointly take action to drastically reduce tobacco consumption and encourage the shift from tobacco cultivation to food crop cultivation, the environmental crisis will only get worse. More conflicts would also arise due to water scarcity. And more people will end up homeless, with little to no access to food due to climate change causing low crop yield.