Social Governance

WHO Concerned about Tobacco Industry's Environmental Impact and Human Health

Published on: 31 May 2022 07:00 AM
by KnowESG

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released data today on the extent to which tobacco harms both the environment and human health, urging action to hold the tobacco industry more accountable for the devastation it causes. The tobacco industry costs the globe 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 per year.

The majority of tobacco is grown in low- and middle-income countries, where water and cropland are frequently in short supply to meet the region's food needs. Instead, they are being exploited to cultivate lethal tobacco plants while forests are being cleared at an increasing rate.

According to the WHO report "Tobacco: Poisoning our Planet," the carbon footprint of the tobacco business from manufacturing, processing, and transportation is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced annually by the commercial aviation sector, adding to global warming.

Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO, 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."

Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes all contribute to the accumulation of plastic pollution. Cigarette filters are the second most common source of microplastic contamination in the world.

Despite tobacco industry marketing, there is no proof that filters have any health benefits. To preserve public health and the environment, WHO recommends that policymakers approach cigarette filters like single-use plastics and consider banning them.

Rather than the tobacco industry causing the problem, taxpayers bear the cost of cleaning up littered tobacco products. It costs China approximately US$ 2.6 billion per year and India around US$ 766 million each year. Brazil and Germany will pay more than $200 million each.

France and Spain, then cities in the United States such as San Francisco, have taken a stand. They have successfully implemented the "extended producer responsibility law," which holds the tobacco industry liable for cleaning up the damage it generates, based on the Polluter Pays Principle.

WHO encourages countries and cities to follow this lead by supporting tobacco growers in their transition to sustainable crops, enacting tobacco taxes (which may include an environmental tax), and providing support services to help people quit smoking.

Source: WHO

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