Tobacco industry severely damages environment: WHO | News | DW | 31.05.2022

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Tobacco industry severely damages environment: WHO

Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, and they contain thousands of toxic chemicals that can end up in the environment, according to the World Health Organization.

Close up shot of a woman smoking a cigarette

Tobacco products are the most littered items on the planet, the WHO says

Smoking not only kills people, but also severely impacts the environment, the World Health Organization said in a report released Tuesday.

The report, Tobacco: poisoning our planet, published to coincide with World No Tobacco Day, said smoking kills 8 million people every year.

Along with that, the production and consumption of tobacco leads to the loss of around 600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, and 22 billion tons of water every year, it said.

Smoking industry is a massive CO2 emitter

Tobacco use and production also contributes significantly to global greenhouse gases, emitting around 84 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. 

"The industry's carbon footprint from production, processing and transporting tobacco is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing to global warming," the report warns.

Recycling cigarette butts with mushrooms

Cigarette filters also severely damaging

Around 4.5 trillion cigarette filters — which contain non-biodegradable microplastics — end up in oceans, rivers and beaches every year, said Rüdiger Krech, the WHO's director of health promotion.

Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, Krech said, adding they contain over 7,000 toxic chemicals "which leech into our environment when discarded."

Krech said the cost of cleaning up discarded tobacco items almost always falls on taxpayers and called on the tobacco industry to do more. Germany pays around $200 million (€186 million) to clean up tobacco waste.

Doing Your Bit: Less smoke and more smoked fish

The report called on policymakers to consider banning cigarette filters because of their harmful impact on the environment.

The WHO also calls attention to the plight of tobacco farmers exposed to harmful emissions throughout the course of their work and life. Krech said some farmers were poisoned by the nicotine they absorbed through their skin.

It is important, Krech said, that "the industry pay actually for the mess that they are creating."

rm/nm (dpa, Reuters)