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How Do Cigarettes Affect The Environment?

Its common knowledge that smoking is associated with a lot of health risks. Around one hundred thousand people in the UK die each year because of smoking related illnesses like lung disease, heart disease and cancer.
But smoking isn’t just harmful to our health, it also has a very negative effect on the environment. The manufacture and use of tobacco products creates litter as well as ground, air and water pollution. It can be easy to overlook these problems when thinking about smoking, but they can be surprisingly devastating to our world as wildlife.

Things To Watch

Air

The effect that smoking tobacco has on the air around us is one of the most obvious ways that smoking impacts the environment. Its estimated that more than ten thousand people die each year in the UK alone as a result of second hand smoke. This means that around ten percent of the people who die from illnesses caused by smoking aren’t even smokers, they’re the victims of passive smoking.
The smoke created by burning tobacco doesn’t just harm smokers, it can kill those around them. This is also true of children as second hand smoke can cause asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome. And its estimated that smoking during pregnancy is responsible for more than a thousand infant deaths each year.
Smoking creates thousands of chemicals, including formaldehyde, ammonia, arsenic and carbon monoxide as well as tar, a sticky combination of dangerous chemicals that coats the lungs. These chemicals are harmful to us and our environment and globally, smokers produce thousands of tons of these poisons each year.
Studies have shown that smoking and cigarette production also have an impact on climate change, releasing dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere. Cigarettes also create nitrogen oxide which contributes to the creation of urban smog.

Litter

Piles of cigarette butts are a common sight and this litter makes up around a third of the rubbish found on our streets. Cigarette butts are the most common piece of waste washed up on our beaches and tons of them are discarded every year.
Cigarette butts are not biodegradable, it takes years for them to break down and some of the plastic used takes far longer. They also contain chemicals such as arsenic and lead which contaminate our water and soil.

Tobacco farming

Tobacco can be grown organically and in a way that encourages healthy soil, but this is not an easy or cheap process. The majority of tobacco farming uses pesticides and chemical fertilisers that can cause environmental damage. Land is often cleared to farm tobacco and produce tobacco products and in many countries tobacco farming harms soil conditions and leads to deforestation.
A large amount of wood is needed to produce cigarette paper and during the curing process of tobacco. It is estimated that over a million trees are cut down every day in order to produce cigarettes. In fact, tobacco production is responsible for between two and four percent of deforestation around the world.
Pollution from pesticides and chemical fertilisers can disrupt the ecosystem, causing long term damage. Tobacco farming also drains nutrients from the soil as tobacco is more intensive to farm than most other crops, causing further long term problems.

Water

The production of cigarettes and other tobacco products requires the cutting down of large numbers of trees as well as huge amounts of dangerous chemicals. These chemicals are not always safely disposed of during the manufacturing process.
Regulations on the disposal of chemicals vary across the globe and in some countries the chemicals used to produce cigarettes are discarded in a way that damages the environment.
The production process isn’t the only way that cigarettes can cause water pollution. Trillions of cigarettes are smoked each year, producing tons of litter and a large percentage of this rubbish ends up in our streams, rivers and oceans.
Even the litter produced from smoking that doesn’t make it directly into the water, discarded cigarette butts release thousands of poisonous chemicals which are washed away by rain. This contaminated rainwater then drains into our sewers, rivers and oceans, adding to the dangerous levels of pollution.

Animals

As well as creating tonnes of litter, polluting the air, ground and water, cigarettes also cause harm to animals. Second hand smoke can poison animals as well as humans and all the cigarette butts discarded every year can end up being eaten, causing internal damage and even death.
Pets and farm animals can be harmed by the chemicals produced when manufacturing cigarettes as well as the litter caused by smoking. Cigarette butts release poisonous chemicals into the soil, damaging vegetation and animals as well as disrupting local ecosystems.
The damage caused by smoking also affects our rivers and oceans in the form of water pollution and the huge numbers of cigarette butts that end up in the water. Aquatic ecosystems are damaged as fish, turtles and plant-life are poisoned by cigarette manufacturing and litter.

Compared To Vaping

When compared to the harm that smoking does to our bodies and out planet, vaping is far less dangerous. Vaping produces much smaller amounts of litter and studies have shown that while vaping does create some lingering particles like nicotine and other chemicals, its in far smaller quantities than smoking.

E-liquids are made from a base of mostly water with PG or VG which are already commonly mass produced for the food industry. The remaining ingredients are nicotine and flavourings which are also used in food production. This means that the manufacture of e-liquids is no more harmful to the environment than soft drinks or desserts.

Between the air pollutants, litter, chemicals and trees cut down during production, smoking is very harmful to the world around us. Around half of smokers will die from smoking related illnesses and second hand smoke kills thousands of people each year, including children.
Pollution and deforestation from cigarette use and production is causing long term damage to our planet.

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