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Is smoking bad for the environment?

We know that smoking is bad for our health, but what about for the planet's?


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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After years of reports and campaigns, many people are now aware of the effects of smoking on our health. Smoking can lead to all sorts of health problems, including cancer.

But, smoking also has a negative impact on our planet. Each stage of use and production comes at a cost to the environment.

The facts about cigarettes and climate change

Tobacco is the main ingredient in a cigarette. It is mainly grown in China, Brazil and India, amongst other countries.

Tobacco is a crop that is grown in fields. It is also a monocrop, meaning it is grown on the same land year-after-year often without the rotation of other crops. As a result, the quality of soil declines and damaging chemicals and pesticides have to be used for growth and pest protection. Many of these chemicals are so dangerous that they are banned in some countries.

Land is also cleared to make room for growing and drying tobacco, leading to deforestation and habitat loss.

Greenhouse gases are what warm our planet and raise the global temperature. Some examples are carbon dioxide and methane.

Deforestation is when someone clears a large area of trees. In many countries, deforestation happens to clear land for raising cattle. Forests hold large amounts of carbon and trees store it in their branches, leaves, roots and soil.

When someone cuts or burns down trees, this stored carbon goes into the air as carbon dioxide. This adds to the warming of the planet.

Deforestation is the second largest manmade source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It trails only the burning of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

Deforestation also has a negative impact on biodiversity, which is the amount of variety of plants and animals in a habitat.

Once harvested, producers dry the leaves to make the dry tobacco that goes into a cigarette. To do this, they have to burn wood or coal. These both contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.

Once ready for sale, producers ship cigarettes around the world. The transport involved also creates greenhouse gas emissions.

Each year, tobacco production also creates a lot of waste. Packaging cigarettes uses paper, ink, cellophane, foil and glue.

Cigarette butt pollution

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about two-thirds of cigarettes end up as litter. The end of a cigarette - a cigarette butt - is not biodegradable. This means that it will not break down and go back into the soil once you throw it away. In Ireland, cigarette-related waste made up over half of all litter in 2018.

Litter from cigarettes can take years to break down. But in the process they break down into microplastics. Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic which also harm the environment.

Cigarette butts first came in the 1950s. Tobacco companies thought that adding a filter to cigarettes might lower the risk of cancer.

These butts contains arsenic and heavy metals. These chemicals can make their way into our water.

Cigarette butts left in grass and soil can also harm the development of plants. If they make their way into water, fish can eat them and die as a result. The same goes for land animals if they mistake cigarette litter for food.

As a result, lower populations of animals and plants in an area can have a negative impact on biodiversity.

Smoking can also affect your pet’s health. If they are around secondhand smoke, it can increase their risk of cancer. Secondhand smoke is the smoke you exhale when having a cigarette.

As well as benefiting the environment, quitting smoking is good for you and those around you.

Read up on the benefits of quitting smoking.



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Published Decem­ber 20th2019
Last updated Sep­tem­ber 18th2020
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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