Please pay the bill: WHO denounces the environmental impact of the tobacco industry


World No Tobacco Day: The report examines the impacts of the entire cycle. (Case)


The tobacco industry is a much bigger threat than many realize because it is one of the world’s biggest polluters, whether it’s leaving mountains of trash or causing global warming, a said the WHO on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization has accused the industry of causing widespread deforestation, diverting much-needed land and water from food production in poor countries, dumping plastic and chemical waste and emitting millions tons of carbon dioxide.

In its report released on World No Tobacco Day, the UN agency called on the tobacco industry to be held to account and foot the cleanup bill.

The report, “Tobacco: Poisoning Our Planet”, looks at the impacts of the entire cycle, from plant growth to tobacco product manufacturing, consumption and waste.

While the health effects of tobacco have been well documented for decades – with smoking still causing more than eight million deaths worldwide each year – the report focuses on its wider environmental consequences.

The results are “pretty devastating”, Ruediger Krech, director of health promotion at the WHO, told TAUT, accusing the industry of being “one of the biggest polluters we know”.

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He criticized tobacco companies’ frequent efforts to clean up their image through beach cleanups and funding environmental and disaster relief organizations as “greenwashing”.

“The tobacco industry dumps toxic waste into communities and depletes natural resources,” he told a news conference.

“Tobacco doesn’t just poison people, it poisons our planet.”

The industry is responsible for the loss of some 600 million trees each year – or 5% of global deforestation – while tobacco cultivation and production uses 200,000 hectares of land and 22 billion tonnes of water per year. year, according to the report.

It also emits around 84 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, he said.

Additionally, “tobacco products are the dirtiest items on the planet, containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals, which leach into our environment when thrown away,” Krech said.

4.5 trillion cigarette butts

He pointed out that each of the approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette butts that end up in oceans, rivers, sidewalks and beaches each year can pollute 100 liters of water.

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And up to a quarter of all tobacco growers contract what’s called green tobacco sickness, or poisoning from nicotine they absorb through their skin.

Farmers who handle tobacco leaves all day consume the equivalent of 50 nicotine cigarettes a day, Krech said.

This is particularly worrying for the many children involved in tobacco farming.

“Imagine a 12-year-old exposed to 50 cigarettes a day,” he said.

Most tobacco is grown in poorer countries, where water and agricultural land are often scarce, and where these crops are often grown at the expense of vital food production, the report says.

UN agencies have launched a project to try to help farmers switch to other crops.

plastic pollution

At the same time, the processing and transport of tobacco accounts for a significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions – with the equivalent of one-fifth of the carbon footprint of the global airline industry.

Additionally, products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are also contributing significantly to the global buildup of plastic pollution, the WHO has warned.

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Cigarette filters contain microplastics – the tiny fragments that have been detected in every ocean and even at the bottom of the world’s deepest pit – and are the second-largest form of plastic pollution globally, according to the report.

Stressing that there is no evidence that filters offer proven health benefits over unfiltered cigarettes, the UN agency urged policymakers around the world to consider banning them.

The WHO also called on governments to immediately end the roughly $500 billion in subsidies the tobacco industry receives each year, and also urged them to stop allowing taxpayers to foot the bill to clean up the mess of tobacco. industry.

Each year, China, for example, pays around $2.6 billion and India around $766 million, while Brazil and Germany each pay around $200 million to clean up discarded tobacco products, according to the report.

It’s important, Krech said, that “the industry actually pays for the mess it creates.”

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