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Not Just Health: Tobacco Endangers Environment, WHO Says

  • RFE/RL

Tobacco plants require large amounts chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fumigants to control pest or disease outbreaks.

Tobacco growing is doing "massive harm" to the environment due to the extensive use of chemicals, energy, and water as well as pollution from manufacturing and distribution, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

The ecological footprint goes far beyond the effects of cigarette smoke, the WHO said on May 30 in its first report on tobacco's impact on the environment.

"From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process," said the report, issued a day ahead of World No Tobacco Day.

"Tobacco growing, the manufacture of tobacco products and their delivery to retailers all have severe environmental consequences, including deforestation, the use of fossil fuels and the dumping or leaking of waste products into the natural environment," WHO Assistant Director-General Oleg Chestnov said.

According to WHO, tobacco use kills 7 million people a year.

Tobacco plants require large amounts chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fumigants to control pest or disease outbreaks.

"Many of these chemicals are so harmful to both the environment and farmers’ health that they are banned in some countries," the report said.

Vast quantities of wood are burned to cure tobacco leaves, contributing to deforestation, it said.

An estimated 11.4 million tons of wood are used each year for the drying of tobacco leaves, a process known as curing -- or one tree for 300 cigarettes.

In China, the world's top producer of tobacco, the crop is responsible for 18 percent of the country's annual deforestation, the report said.

It said that cigarette factories annually produce a half-million tons of waste contaminated with nicotine and other chemicals worldwide, while manufacturing is "extremely water-intensive."

More than 6 trillion cigarettes are lit each year, releasing 3 million-5 million tons of greenhouse gases into the air, as well as thousands of tons of carcinogenic chemicals.

Millions of kilograms of nonbiodegradable cigarette butts are discarded every year, the report said.

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