WHO: Tobacco Isn’t Just Bad For Humans, It’s Also Killing The Environment

Image courtesy of Kat N.L.M.

From cancer to heart disease and many things in between, the health effects of smoking tobacco are well known. But a new report from the United Nation’s World Health Organization tries to show how all this smoke has affected the environment.

The WHO report [PDF] is being released in advance of World No Tobacco Day (which, honestly, needs a catchier name) on May 31. It looks at the agricultural impacts of cultivating tobacco and the negative consequences of manufacturing and distributing it, including the use of fossil fuels and production of hazardous waste.

It also focuses on the environmental damage caused by the immediate consumption of tobacco products, as well as “the post-consumption waste and health implications that continue to play out long after the tobacco has been smoked.”

A few key figures from WHO’s report:

• Tobacco waste contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals that pollute the environment, including human carcinogens.

• Smoke emissions from tobacco have added up to thousands of tons of human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases going into the environment.

• Cigarette butts and other tobacco waste account for a huge amount of trash. A 2014 study found that these items make up more than 1/3 of the refuse collected during coastal cleanups. Meanwhile, nearly 2/3 of all cigarettes purchased each day end up discarded into streets, grass, water — anywhere but a trash receptacle.


“Tobacco threatens us all,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said. “Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices and pollutes indoor air.”

To address this threat to global development, WHO is urging governments to take control with measures like banning tobacco marketing and advertising, promoting plain product packaging, and making indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free.

Another valuable tool to fight tobacco use? Taxation: While it’s one of the least used methods, increasing tobacco tax and prices is one of the most effective tobacco control measures available, says Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for NCDs and Mental Health

And although governments pull in almost $270 billion in tobacco excise tax revenues each year, WHO says this could increase by over 50% for an additional $141 billion simply by raising taxes on cigarettes by $0.80 per pack in all countries.

“By taking robust tobacco control measures, governments can safeguard their countries’ futures by protecting tobacco users and non-users from these deadly products, generating revenues to fund health and other social services, and saving their environments from the ravages tobacco causes,” Dr. Chan said.

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