WHO says the tobacco industry is a killer for the planet's lungs

Geneva, Switzerland - The World Health Organization revealed how bad cigarettes are for the climate and says the tobacco industry should be held responsible for the destruction it is causing.

Scientist Aurelien Strmsek shows off his deadly catch, a bucket full of cigarette butts.
Scientist Aurelien Strmsek shows off his deadly catch, a bucket full of cigarette butts.  © MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP

The WHO zeroed in on the environmental impact of the tobacco industry in a new report, and found that, besides killing 8 million people every year, tobacco is devastating to the climate.

The industry deforests 600 million trees, uses almost 500,000 acres of land, and 5 billion gallons of water every year. The production chain, from start to finish, emits over 90 million tons of CO2 annually.

That massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions is equal to one fifth of the aviation industry, according to another WHO report on tobacco.

Tobacco's climate impact

Most tobacco is grown in poorer countries, which have to split their land and water use between feeding their people and growing a profitable, but polluting crop.

That's before we even get to the chronic littering.

WHO's Director of Health Promotion, Dr Ruediger Krech, said, "Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7000 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."

For now, the cost of dealing with the litter and pollution from tobacco products falls on taxpayers, but the WHO urges governments to change that around.

The city of San Francisco is leading the charge, after it passed legislation that shifts the responsibility for cleaning up the mess to tobacco producers and sellers.

Cover photo: MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP

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