Not just health, tobacco products also degrades ecosystem integrity: WHO report

Not just health, tobacco products also degrades ecosystem integrity: WHO report
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Tobacco is among the most consumed commodity worldwide. And its consumption continues to be a key contributor to the global disease burden, responsible for a whopping 12 per cent of deaths among persons under 30 globally. Tobacco can cause cancer and continues to kill 8 million people worldwide each year, including 1.2 million nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke.
But, these tobacco products don't just endanger our health, it also causes significant damage to the environment and leaves non-retractable carbon footprints on our planet.

A scattered mess

Cigarette butts or filters are one of the most littered substances on this planet. They account for 30 to 40% of all litter discovered during coastal and urban trash clean-ups. An estimated 5.6 trillion cigarettes are smoked every year, with two-thirds of them discarded inappropriately.
“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 the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The global health agency released a comprehensive research report titled “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet”, outlining these impacts on the World No Tobacco Day this year.
Tobacco industry also emits 84 megatons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere each year, as reported by WHO. The research highlights that the carbon footprint of the tobacco business from manufacturing, processing, and transportation, is comparable to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial aircraft sector each year.

Ecological toll of tobacco

The manufacture of cigarettes consumes around 22 billion litres of water each year. As per the WHO report, approximately 3.5 million hectares of land are cleared for tobacco cultivation, driving up deforestation in underdeveloped countries.
Tobacco also causes soil erosion because it is typically grown as a single or monocrop, exposing the topsoil to wind and water. Tobacco farming has caused desertification in several nations, including India, as monocropping tobacco on drylands has been regarded as "the most erosive crop." Furthermore, evidence from a WHO report reveals that tobacco production has a significantly more "aggressive" influence on forest ecosystems than other uses such as corn farming or grazing.

Tobacco production and curing are also among the most ecologically damaging agricultural practices in low- and middle-income nations. The economic return on tobacco production has hiked over time in several nations, encouraging more and more farmers to opt for tobacco farming. However, it causes consequential losses of forests, plants, and animal species, while affecting the health of farmers who work with harsh chemicals used in the production and manufacturing process.
Cigarettes are made up of toxic substances, including Cellulose acetate fibres. Like other microplastics, these persistent pollutants can linger for decades and are found in all ecosystems worldwide. Cellulose acetate fibres degrade the environment over time, while cigarette butts can accumulate on the deep sea bed. Butts containing toxic substances can threaten biodiversity, including plants, insects, rodents, fungi, and other living things, says the research.