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The Environmental Damage Caused by Tobacco Cigarettes

Posted August 7th, 2013 in News by Steve

Nowadays, most people are conscious of the importance of the environment and of the need to protect it for future generations. One of the greatest environmental concerns is the depletion of resources as a result of the overconsumption of consumer goods that characterises life in many wealthy developed countries like Australia. Our obsession with buying consumer goods – a condition that has aptly been named affluenza – creates enormous quantities of waste that end up being thrown away. A lot of this waste ends up as landfill, but far too much of it ends up in other parts of the environment.

The global cigarette industry is both a great user of resources as well as a great producer of waste and toxins. Worldwide, about 5.5 trillion cigarettes are manufactured annually, which equates to about 785 cigarettes for every inhabitant of the planet. Great swathes of prime agricultural land need to be devoted to the cultivation of tobacco; in 2000, the figure was 4.2 million hectares, a number that has undoubtedly risen since then. Large sections of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil – often referred to as the lungs of the Earth – are cut down so that the wood can be used in the manufacture of tobacco. Another problem with the growing of tobacco is that the plant is susceptible to a number of insect pests and is sprayed at least 16 times during the growing season. Large amounts of pesticide escape into waterways, polluting them and the animal and plant life that live in them.

At the other end of the cigarette lifecycle, billions of cigarette butts are not disposed of properly and find their way into the environment. The American environmental organisation Keep America Beautiful (KAB) recently announced that its biggest study into the littering habits of Americans found that some 51.2 billion pieces of litter clutter the roadways of the United States. Cigarette butts comprise some 38 per cent of all litter, making them the single most littered item in the United States. However, these are figures for the United States only; global numbers are undoubtedly much greater. Cigarette butts can take up to ten years to decompose, during which time they leak toxic chemicals into the environment. Some of these toxic chemicals remain poisonous for centuries. Another problem is that birds, fish and mammals often mistake cigarette butts for food and eat them. In sufficiently large quantities, this will kill the unlucky animal, either by poisoning it or by filling its stomach and causing it to starve to death. Yet another negative side effect of the tobacco cigarette is the wildfires that are started each year by people who carelessly dispose of their cigarettes. If fewer people smoked, there would be less impact on the environment as a result of tobacco cultivation and the waste products of tobacco cigarettes. Thus, every effort to reduce the number of smokers helps the environment.

Electronic cigarettes, by helping people to quit smoking, can play an important role in reducing the damage done to the environment by the tobacco cigarettes.

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