New warnings over global tobacco impact

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has today called for the global tobacco industry to be made to pay for the growing impact tobacco has on human health and the environment.

The WHO has published its latest report “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet” which highlights that the industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing and transporting tobacco is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing to global warming.

It said every year 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.

“The majority of tobacco is grown in low-and-middle-income countries, where water and farmland are often desperately needed to produce food for the region,” the WHO explained. “Instead, they are being used to grow deadly tobacco plants, while more and more land is being cleared of forests.”

“Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded. Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, director of health promotion at WHO.

Products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes also add to the build-up of plastic pollution, warned the organisation. Cigarette filters contain microplastics and make up the second-highest form of plastic pollution worldwide.

“Despite tobacco industry marketing, there is no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits. WHO calls on policy-makers to treat cigarette filters, as what they are, single use plastics, and consider banning cigarette filters to protect public health and the environment,” added Krech.

The report said the costs of cleaning up littered tobacco products fall on taxpayers, rather than the industry creating the problem. Each year, this costs China roughly $2.6 billion and India roughly $766 million. The cost for Brazil and Germany come in at over $200 million.

According to the study countries like France and Spain and cities like San Francisco have taken a stand. Following the Polluter Pays Principle, they have successfully implemented “extended producer responsibility legislation” which makes the tobacco industry responsible for clearing up the pollution it creates.

“The WHO urges countries and cities to follow this example, as well as give support to tobacco farmers to switch to sustainable crops, implement strong tobacco taxes, which could also include an environmental tax, and offer support services to help people quit tobacco,” added the organisation.

“Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded. Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year.” 

Dr Ruediger Krech, WHO.

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