Cigarette smoking causes environmental pollution by releasing toxic air pollutants into the atmosphere. The cigarette butts also litter the environment and the toxic chemicals in the remains seep into soils and waterways therefore causing soil and water pollution respectively. Animals and plants that come into contact or absorb the toxic substances from the cigarette residues are affected as well.
As such, it’s not only the cigarette smoke that causes manifold impacts on people and the environment but also the cigarette butt and other wastes released during the entire production process of cigarettes. Interestingly, when people hear about cigarette smoking, they often think of the health risks it has on the human body. Many fail look at the critical side topic which pertains to how it harms the environment. Herein are the discussions about the serious impact of cigarette smoking on human health and the environment.
1. Direct risks to human health
Surveys and clinical studies prove that smoking cigarettes cause several health risks for humans. The following are the health risks associated with regular smoking.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of lung cancer deaths in the world. The smoke contains carcinogenic particles which increase smokers’ risk of developing cancers of the lungs, esophagus, throat and larynx. Smoking is also associated with cancers of the bladder, pancreas, lips, kidney, uterus and cervix.
b. Autoimmune disorder
Smoking suppresses the body’s immune system thus increasing vulnerability to infections and diseases. For this reason, smokers are vulnerable to respiratory infections. Further, it causes numerous autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. It equally plays a role in the periodic flare-ups of autoimmune diseases.
c. Type 2 diabetes
The most recent clinical research reveals the existence of a link between type 2 diabetes and smoking. The study indicates that smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes compared to nonsmokers.
d. Premature deaths
Smoking leads to premature death because of the associated health risks including respiratory, cancer and vascular diseases. Smokers’ lives are shortened by at least 10 years compared to non-smokers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 5 million deaths each year.
e. Lung Disease
Apart from lung cancer, smoking can also contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
f. Heart attack and stroke
Smoking narrows blood vessels hence restricting blood circulation to the heart, brain and other critical organs. It also increases the likelihood of blood clotting in the legs and lungs. Altogether, there is heightened possibility of smokers becoming vulnerable to heart attack and stroke.
g. Complications for pregnant women
Smoking pregnant women or those exposed to second hand smoke are at higher risks of developing complications during birth. They may also experience a wide range of congenital disorders.
i. Health dangers of second hand smoke
Even if you are not a smoker, you are not spared if you are exposed to second hand smoke as it contains toxic metals, carcinogens and poisonous gases. Those exposed to second hand smoke are at high risks of suffering from most of the diseases and health complications associated with first hand smoking.
The key ingredient in the manufacture of cigarettes is tobacco and the reality is that most of it is planted in rainforests areas. Accordingly, it has contributed to major deforestation in the areas where it is planted. Areas where tobacco planting began on small lands are now extensively covering large fields and some of such places were covered by very dense forest.
A prime example is Tabora village in Usenge, Tanzania where local tobacco farmers attest to this phenomenon. Deforestation also has its additional ripple effects to the environment such as reducing availability of plants for foraging, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and increasing global temperatures.
A publication even indicated that an hour cigarette-manufacturing unit needs about 4 miles of paper for rolling and packing which translates to the destruction of one tree for every 300 cigarettes made. Additionally, many of the producing countries have to burn lots of wood used to create fire for drying the tobacco leaves.
3. Generation of huge amounts of toxic waste
The entire process of cultivating, curing, and transporting tobacco needs the use of large amount of chemical and other toxic materials. At the same time, the production process generates huge amounts of wastes such as harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers. One of the habitually used substances in the production process is known as Aldicarb. It’s highly toxic to humans, plants and animals and can seep into waterways and intoxicate the soil for several years.
Other toxic wastes generated from cigarette production include dithane DF, imidacloprid, 1, 3 — dichloropropene, chlorpyrifos and methyl bromide which can harm plants, humans and animals. In as early as 1995, it was reported that nearly 2300 million kilograms of manufacturing waste is generated from cigarette manufacturing process annually including an additional 209 kilograms of chemical waste.
4. Air pollution through industrial production process and farming
The industrial processing and smoking of cigarette adds huge volumes of air pollutants into the atmosphere. Second hand smoke pollutes the air directly and the manufacturing process releases air pollutants in many ways. It starts right in the tobacco farms where the machines used emit greenhouse gases from the fossil fuel combusted to produce energy.
Wood-burning fires or special furnaces are also required in the curing process, releasing noxious chemicals into the atmosphere. The transportation and shipping for industrial processing and to consumer markets across the world further increases environmental footprint from greenhouse gas emissions.
5. Soil and land pollution through farming and from cigarette butts
The high scores of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals used in the cultivation of tobacco introduce volumes of hazardous pollutants to the land and soils. These chemicals accumulate and eventually hamper the fertility of the soils and make the lands unsuitable for supporting any other crop. Most of the ingredients present in cigarette butts, on the other hand, are non-biodegradable and take years to break down.
The filters are made of cellulose acetate, sourced from plastic, are photodegradable – can be broken down by UV light but still take an extended period to break down. The ingredients in the filter therefore remain in the soil for a long period of time, up to 10 years as estimated by researchers. As long as they are present in the soil, the soil remains polluted.
6. Air pollution through smoking
Carbon dioxide, methane and other noxious chemicals are present in second hand smoke which causes air pollution through smoking. As much as methane and carbon dioxide are not deadly to smokers, the gases do add to the general atmospheric pollution.
Smoking globally emits nearly 2.6 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide and 5.2 billion kilograms of methane into the atmosphere each year. This provides a clear picture of how smoking alone contributes to climate change. Second hand smoke as discussed earlier also poses indirect health risk such as cancer to other people and animals.
7. Cigarette butts and the contamination of waterways
Cigarette butts are increasingly becoming one of the biggest concerns with regards to littering. It is common to find cigarette butts scattered all over on the ground, and they often find way into waterways when washed by storm water or when they end up along shorelines or on wetlands.
Ocean Conservancy points out that cigarette butts are the most common waste matter and a huge number ends up in international water systems namely oceans. In 2008, for example, International Coastal Cleanup program managed to clear about 3.2 million cigarette butts from waterways and beaches. This was almost twice the amount of all other trash. Upon contaminating the waterways, they seriously harm aquatic animals, plants, and even pollute groundwater.
8. Impact on aquatic fish
Fish have particularly been impacted by cigarettes in countless ways. Whenever cigarette filters find way into water systems, they can be ingested by fish because they resemble fish food like the insects. The filters remain within the fish reducing their stomach capacity, thus affecting their eating habits.
Research in the US also found that the runoff from just a single cigarette butt can kill a fish in a 1 Liter jar of water. If this is translated into the amounts of the cigarette butts that find their way into water systems, it’s more than clear the degree at which fish are impacted every year. Humans are likewise not spared if by any chance they ingest the chemicals by consuming affected fish.
9. Health impacts on pets
When pets are outdoors they do so many things like sniffing through garbage and the streets. This puts the pets, dogs and cats, at a high risk of ingesting cigarette butts lying on the ground as litter. The consequence can be damaging and may even kill the pet. Second hand smoke may also make the pets susceptible to asthma or other lung complications. They are equally not spared of developing cancer just like their human counterparts.
10. Forest fires (Wildfires)
The forests fires started by burning cigarette butts worldwide are countless. About 17,000 people worldwide die each year because of fires started by cigarette lighters or discarded burning cigarettes. In terms of property damage, the losses are more than 27 billion US dollars every year.
Further, such forest fires are damaging to the environment causing biodiversity loss, habitat loss, air pollution, deforestation and the death of humans and wild animals. A forest fire started by cigarette butt in the year 1987 in China killed 300 people, left 5,000 other homeless and destroyed approximately 1.3 million hectares of land.