1. Agriculture World

World No-Tobacco Day: WHO Expresses Concern Over Adverse Impacts of Tobacco Industry

The majority of tobacco is grown in low- and middle-income countries, where water and farmland are frequently in short supply to feed the region. Instead, they are being used to grow lethal tobacco plants, while more and more forest land is being cleared.

Shivam Dwivedi
World Health Organization
World Health Organization

WHO released new data today on the extent to which tobacco harms both the environment and human health, calling for steps to hold the industry more accountable for the devastation it causes. The tobacco industry costs the world more than 8 million human lives, 600 million trees, 200 000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water, and 84 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

The majority of tobacco is grown in low- and middle-income countries, where water and farmland are frequently in short supply to feed the region. Instead, they are being used to grow lethal tobacco plants, while more and more forest land is being cleared.

According to the WHO report "Tobacco: Poisoning our Planet," the carbon footprint of the tobacco industry from production, processing, and transportation is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, contributing to global warming.

"Tobacco products are the world's most littered item, containing over 7000 toxic chemicals that leech into our environment when discarded." Every year, approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil, and beaches," said Dr. Ruediger Krech, WHO Director of Health Promotion.

Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes all contribute to the accumulation of plastic pollution. Cigarette filters contain microplastics and are the second most common source of plastic pollution in the world.

There is no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits, despite tobacco industry marketing. WHO urges policymakers to treat cigarette filters as single-use plastics and consider banning them to protect public health and the environment.

The costs of cleaning up littered tobacco products are borne by taxpayers, not the industry that caused the problem. This costs China approximately $2.6 billion per year and India approximately $766 million. Brazil and Germany will pay more than US$ 200 million (see table below for further estimates).

Countries such as France and Spain, as well as cities such as San Francisco, California in the United States, have taken a stance. They have successfully implemented "extended producer responsibility legislation," which holds the tobacco industry accountable for cleaning up the pollution it causes, in accordance with the Polluter Pays Principle.

WHO encourages countries and cities to follow suit, as well as to assist tobacco farmers in switching to sustainable crops, enact strong tobacco taxes (which could include an environmental tax), and provide support services to help people quit smoking.

Share your comments

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters