Tobacco’s Toxic Effect on Environment

Mahmudul Hoque Moni

Although tobacco’s effect on the environment is lethal, not much attention has been placed towards this issue. In this short blog, I will draw from several research works to explore tobacco’s diverse effect on various aspects of the environment, especially related to humans.

We have an agreement that smoking can cause various respiratory diseases but second-hand smoking causes damages to the family environment and atmosphere of public places. Two American Psychologists – Paul Cameron and Donald Robertson – conducted research among 2,626 randomly selected households in 1973 and found that (a) children living a home where smoking is frequent have a greater prevalence of acute illness when compared to children in smoke-free environments and (b) adult nonsmokers in those households may have a greater prevalence of acute illness than adult nonsmokers who reside in a smoke-free environment.

Photo: Mahmudul Hoque Moni

Smoking in public places does have a deadly effect on people and the atmosphere. In 2018 Truth Initiative – an American organization reported that the waste from cigarettes can leach toxic chemicals into the environment, leading to land, water, and air pollution. The report adds cigarette butts have consistently comprised 30 to 40 per cent of all items collected in annual international coastal and urban cleanups since the 1980s. And, in 2015 only, 1,312,796 pounds of toxic chemicals were reported disposed of, or otherwise released, from tobacco facilities.

The effect of smoking on forestry is also notable. Deforestation is helpful for tobacco growers, but it disrupts the natural ecosystem of the region. Smoking cause fires not only in human settings but also in the wilds. Wildfires are commonly started by cigarette waste. It is scary that about 17,000 deaths worldwide are attributed to from wildfires started by a lit cigarette or lighter.

People smoking in parks and wilds often through the butts in open places on the grass. Livestock moving around often eat those butts which leave harmful chemicals chemical inside their body. Cigarette butts and packaging contains chemicals and toxins that can pollute soil and help to grow contaminated food items in those fields.

Ali and others conducted a study to evaluate the scenario of tobacco farming and its impact on the environment and make better policy to reduce environmental degradation. The study conducted in Nilphamari district of Bangladesh found that about 62% of tobacco farmer suffering from coughing and asthmatic diseases in the study are while tobacco processing pollutes the air and the tobacco as crop replaced 50% of paddy field. The study also found a significant negative impact of tobacco farming on the health of the child, biodiversity, poultry, and livestock.

UBINIG – a policy and action research organization in Bangladesh published a policy brief that tobacco production takes away lands from year-round cropping, requires huge inputs of fertilizers and pesticides which degrade the soil quality. The brief also notes that most of the farmers suffer from nausea, weakness, dizziness, vomiting, fluctuation of blood pressure and palpitation.

Besides all these, the people working in the tobacco processing industries suffer from various kinds of environmental hazards. Smoking in public places can also cause health hazards to non-smokers.

The WHO also warned of the dire environmental impact of tobacco production, distribution, and waste. Hence, Bangladesh plans to become a tobacco-free country by 2040. However, the policies in place for tobacco control has a very limited impact on tobacco cultivation and production in the country.

The feature image is taken from here.

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