SWITZERLAND – WHO has 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.

Every year the tobacco industry costs the world more than 8 million human lives, 600 million trees, 200 000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 84 million tonnes of carbon (IV) oxide.

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.

The WHO report “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet” highlights that the industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing and transporting tobacco is equivalent to one-fifth of the carbon (IV) oxide produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing 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.”

Products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes all contribute to the accumulation of plastic pollution.

Cigarette filters contain microplastics and are the second most common source of plastic pollution in the world.

There is no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits, despite tobacco industry marketing.

WHO urges policymakers to treat cigarette filters as single-use plastics and consider banning them to protect public health and the environment.

The costs of cleaning up littered tobacco products are borne by taxpayers, not the industry that caused the problem.

This costs China approximately US$2.6 billion per year and India approximately US$766 million. Brazil and Germany will pay more than US$200 million.

Countries such as France and Spain, as well as cities such as San Francisco, California in the United States, have taken a stance.

They have successfully implemented “extended producer responsibility legislation,” which holds the tobacco industry accountable for cleaning up the pollution it causes, in accordance with the Polluter Pays Principle.

WHO encourages countries and cities to follow suit, as well as to assist tobacco farmers in switching to sustainable crops, enact strong tobacco taxes, which could include an environmental tax, and provide support services to help people quit smoking.

Liked this article? Sign up to receive our regular email newsletters, focused on Africa and World’s healthcare industry, directly into your inbox. SUBSCRIBE HERE