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Tobacco's Environmental Impact

How does tobacco impact the environment?

  • The environmental impact of tobacco far extends beyond the effects of smoke released into the air by tobacco products when consumed. One must consider tobacco’s role in deforestation, climate change, and waste produced to capture the tobacco industry’s full impact on the environment.
  • To make cigarettes, tobacco leaves need to be dried, often done by burning wood for as long as 7 days.
  • An estimated 11.4 million metric tons of wood are required annually for tobacco curing (34) (see Box 1), and this process destroys 494,000 acres of forest every year.
  • After the tobacco is produced, more wood is needed to create rolling paper and packaging for the tobacco products.
  • Desertification from tobacco cultivation has been observed in numerous countries, including Jordan, India, Cuba, and Brazil.
  • Environmental and societal harms place a disproportionate burden on low and middle-income communities. Many farmers and government officials see tobacco as a cash crop; however, the short-term cash benefits of the crop are offset by long-term consequences of increased food insecurity, frequent sustained farmers’ debt, illness and poverty among farm workers, and widespread environmental damage.
  • Learn More: World Health Organization’s Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview (2017)

What is the impact of cigarette butts in the environment?

  • Cigarette butts never fully decompose and are the most commonly littered item in the U.S. and the world.
  • The chemicals and additives from the cigarette butts can end up in our rivers and lakes and be toxic to marine life.

What is the impact of tobacco production?

  • When grown in low income countries (like Malawi, Ghana and Cambodia), tobacco contributes to undernourishment because it takes up land that can no longer be used to grow food.

Adapted From
Action on Smoking & Health (2009). Tobacco and the Environment http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_127.pdf

World Health Organization (2012). Tobacco Free Initiative: Environmental Issues http://www.who.int/tobacco/research/economics/rationale/environment/en/index.html

Deforestation Poster: http://www.newlung.org/downloads/8.5x11word-flyer.pdf

Cigarette Butts Impact on the Environment infographic: http://www.humanresponsenetwork.org/Page.asp?NavID=89