WHO raises alarm on tobacco industry environmental impact
This photograph taken on December 7, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

GENEVA, Switzerland (CMC) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) Tuesday revealed new information on the extent to which tobacco damages both the environment and human health, calling for steps to make the industry more accountable for the destruction it is causing.

The WHO says every year the tobacco industry costs the world more than eight 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. Instead, they are being used to grow deadly tobacco plants, while more and more land is being cleared of forests.

In its report titled “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet”, the WHO 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.

“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. 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.

The costs of cleaning up littered tobacco products fall on taxpayers, rather than the industry creating the problem.

The WHO is urging countries and cities to give support to tobacco farmers to switch to sustainable crops, implement strong tobacco taxes that could also include an environmental tax and offer support services to help people quit tobacco.

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