The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of the dire environmental impact of tobacco production, distribution and waste. In a report released ahead of World No Tobacco Day, Wednesday, May 31 the WHO estimates that tobacco use also drains more than US$1.4 trillion from households and governments each year in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, or nearly two percent of the global gross domestic product.
In addition to the health and economic costs linked to smoking, the WHO report for the first time delved into the environmental impact of everything from tobacco production to the cigarette butts and other waste produced by smokers.
The UN Agency also warned that tobacco farming had become the main cause of deforestation in several countries detailing how growing tobacco often requires large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides.
This is largely due to the amount of wood needed for curing tobacco, with WHO estimating that one tree is needed for every 300 cigarettes produced.
WHO also highlighted the pollution generated during the production, transport and distribution of tobacco products. The report estimates that the industry emits nearly four million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually.
And waste from the process contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens, WHO said. Once in the hands of the consumer, tobacco smoke emissions spewed thousands of tonnes of human carcinogens, toxic substances and greenhouse gases into the environment.
Cigarette butts and other tobacco waste make up the largest number of individual pieces of litter in the world, the agency said.
Two thirds of the 15 billion cigarettes sold each day are thrown on to the street or elsewhere in the environment, it said, adding that butts account for up to 40 percent of all items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups. “From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process,” WHO Assistant Director-General Oleg Chestnov said in the report.
The WHO urged governments to take strong measures to rein in tobacco use. “One of the least used, but most effective tobacco control measures… is through increasing tobacco tax and prices,” Chestnov said.