The World Health Organization (WHO) has released fresh data on the extent to which tobacco harms both the environment and human health, and has called for measures to hold the tobacco industry more responsible for the damage it does.
The tobacco business costs the globe more than 8 million human lives, 600 million trees, 200 000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water, and 84 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The bulk of tobacco is cultivated in low- and middle-income nations, where water and cropland are frequently in short supply to meet the region’s food needs. Instead, they are being exploited to cultivate lethal tobacco plants, while forests are being removed at an increasing rate.
The WHO report “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet” highlights that 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.
“Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded. Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.
Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes all contribute to the accumulation of plastic pollution. Cigarette filters are the second most common source of microplastic contamination in the world.
There is no proof that filters have any demonstrated health advantages, notwithstanding tobacco industry propaganda. To preserve public health and the environment, WHO recommends that policymakers approach cigarette filters like single-use plastics and consider banning them.
Rather than the tobacco business causing the problem, taxpayers bear the cost of cleaning up littered tobacco products. This costs China around US$ 2.6 billion per year and India approximately US$ 766 million each year. Brazil and Germany will pay more than $200 million each (see table below for further estimates).
France and Spain, as well as towns in the United States such as San Francisco, have taken a stance. They have successfully adopted “extended producer responsibility law,” which holds the tobacco industry liable for cleaning up the damage it generates, based on the Polluter Pays Principle.
WHO encourages nations and cities to follow this lead by supporting tobacco growers in their transition to sustainable crops, enacting significant tobacco levies (which may include an environmental tax), and providing support services to assist people quit smoking.
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