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Sunday, November 27 2022
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Tobacco: A Threat to our Environment

Photo Credit : Freepik

It is known fact that tobacco is dangerous to our health. We are often taught about the health effects of tobacco: we learn about it from elders, medical professionals, through health education in schools, advertisements on television and movies. We hear about debates and open conversations on reducing the usage and staying safe from second hand smoke in various platforms.

But are the effects of tobacco limited to only the health of the person?

The main smoke, along with fumes from the burning end of the tobacco products, contributes to the greenhouse gases and air pollution. However, the impact goes much beyond that.

The cigarette butts have been the biggest source of trash on the beach and in oceans. In fact, it has been the most ‘littered item’ in the world. Some animal researchers have stated that they often find these inside the dead sea animals. Environmental degradation resulting from tobacco use is often over looked. Recognizing this, the theme for this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “Tobacco: Threat to our environment”.

The finished tobacco products are made of harmful chemicals and various forms of plastics. These are poisonous not just to us, but also to our environment. Tobacco starts having an impact on the environment right from the moment it is cultivated.

Tobacco

  • Farming: Tobacco is a monocrop, meaning that it cannot be grown along with other crops in rotation, thereby not supporting growth of any other crop/vegetation. Thus, chemicals have to be used to maintain the quality of the plant and the land.
  • Curing: It is the process of drying the tobacco leaves. It can be done naturally or though burning of woods. It is reported that 4 million metric tonnes of wood are needed only for drying the tobacco leaves.
  • Production: Having been marketed as a commercial crop, large sections of land are cleared for growing it, trees cut for making the rolling paper and establish factories, thus adversely affecting the biodiversity and natural ecosystem.

Post consumption impact:

  • The discarded cigarette butts contain four main components: a filter; burned and unburned tobacco; ashes; and paper. The filter contains chemical like arsenic, lead, nicotine and cadmium along with micro plastics that can leech onto the soil and water, resulting in the contamination of the environment.
  • Newer forms of tobacco products are green washed, meaning posing to be healthier, environment friendly and sustainable alternatives, when it is not. With no proper waste management, the use of metal pieces, electronic equipment’s along with single use plastics in these variants like e-cigarettes, juul pods, vaping pens that add to the landfill.
  • Another neglected component of the tobacco smoke is the exposure to third hand smoke. It is residual of the nicotine that is left indoors like on curtains, sofas, beddings, carpets, walls even after the use of the tobacco products. These when mixed the natural pollutants that are present indoors can prove to be toxic to non-smokers.

Recognizing the impact that use of tobacco has on our environment, many cities have announced ban on smoking in beach. Simultaneously, there have been beach clean-up drives and waste segregation. Many such efforts have been taken up. Still, there is a long way to go. All of us need to be aware of the harms of tobacco and its various products on our environment and spread the message to our friends and family that: Together we need to say no to tobacco!

 

Our resources are limited and our ecosystem is at a vulnerable stage. Every small step taken will have a ripple effect. Let’s do our part and save our planet.

 

The authors for this article:

Priyanka Bantwal
PhD Research Scholar
Dept of Community Medicine
KMC, Manipal

Dr. Muralidhar Kulkarni
Associate Professor
Dept of Community Medicine
KMC, Manipal

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Dr. Muralidhar Kulkarni

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