A cigarette seems fairly innocuous when you consider it in isolation. The overall impact of smoking on the environment is devastating when you look at the annual figures. Air, water and land are all greatly affected by human action when it comes to cigarettes.
Most smokers are aware of the damage they are doing to their own health and to those around them. What’s less often considered is the wider impact on air quality.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.1 billion people around the world smoke cigarettes, that is one in every three adults. Developing countries fair worse with the estimated numbers. In China around 350 million people are smokers, or former smokers. In the UK, a research that was conducted found that on an average 123.5m cigarettes are smoked per day.
Every cigarette contains a toxic mix of over 4000 chemicals. These toxins include carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and arsenic. The particulate matter in tobacco smoke drifts far and wide. It has long been recognised smoking produces 10 times more air pollution than diesel cars.
Cigarette buds are not biodegradable and while they may break down into smaller pieces of plastic, cellulose acetate, they will still be present in the environment.
In 2009, an astonishing 3,216,991 cigarettes or cigarette buds were collected from beaches and inland waterways globally. As soon as these filters hit the water they start to leach chemicals which can damage delicate ecosystems. They are also swallowed by fresh and seawater creatures, often leading to death. These toxic chemicals travel up through the food chain, making it back to humans.
The deforestation caused by smoking comes from two main sources. The first is that we are clearing wide tracts of land to meet the ever growing demand for tobacco . One area which has been impacted quite severely is the rain forests of Tanzania. During the period 1990 – 2005, the United Republic of Tanzania lost just under 38% of its woodland habitat. A devastating loss in terms of wildlife, but also a massive decrease in the number of trees which can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The production of cigarettes also uses vast amounts of paper. In an hour, a cigarette factory uses almost 4 miles of paper for rolling and packaging the cigarettes. Therefore, for every 300 cigarettes produced, we lose a tree.
We all see the cigarette buds which litter our towns and countryside and while many people would not throw other rubbish in the street, many smokers don’t seem to have the same qualms when it comes to cigarettes.
This litter not only looks unsightly but as we have seen it also means that the toxic chemicals leach into our water and soil as the cigarettes degrade. On the other hand, e-cigarettes are much less harmful to the environment that the old fashioned, combustible cigarettes. The British Journal of Medical Practice, which looks into the effects of vapour in the environment, found the toxin concentrations well below 1/20th that of cigarette smoke.
What Can Be Done?
With such a large percentage of the population smoking, what can we do to alleviate the problem? Governments can take the lead in encouraging people to quit smoking and offer a support network to help people through the withdrawal period. There are many routes to quitting including nicotine replacement patches, group support and even prescription drugs.
Introduction of e-cigarettes and the switch to vaping are other recent developments, which work as short or long term replacement for smoking. Because e-cigarettes vapour doesn’t contain the large amount of toxic chemicals found in cigarettes, the impact on the environment is less, plus you won’t find cigarette buds thrown away all over the places.
While people are aware of the negative impact of vehicles on the environment, they don’t have that level of awareness about the very real dangers of smoking in terms of air, water and land pollution. We all need to play our part in encouraging people to quit this deadly habit not only for the sake of their own health, but also because of the effect it has on our environment.
Article Submitted by Community Writer.