Taking place on 31 May, the focus of World No Tobacco Day this year is on the environmental impact of the tobacco industry

Melinda Nagy climate change global warming

World No Tobacco Day is hosted on 31 May every year by the World Health Organization (WHO). This year, the emphasis of the day is the harmful environmental impact of the tobacco industry, and the WHO has published a report highlighting the industry’s huge carbon footprint.

The WHO report, entitled Tobacco: poisoning our planet, covers the various ways that the tobacco industry harms the planet throughout a tobacco product’s life cycle. Each year, the report notes, 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 dioxide.

The report also reveals that:

  • on average, 3.7 litres of water are used to make one cigarette
  • 65% of cigarette smokers discard their cigarette butts improperly
  • the waste from cartons and boxes used for distribution and packing of tobacco products in 2021 produced waste of at least 2 million tonnes, which equals the weight of 9,433 freight trains
  • more than 7,000 chemicals have been identified in tobacco smoke, and at least 70 are known to cause cancer in humans and animals.

Also included in the report are sections on the health risks of tobacco and the ‘greenwashing tactics’ used by tobacco companies to present themselves as eco-friendly, as well as a call to action for the general public, policymakers, tobacco farmers, and governmental institutions.

The WHO emphasises: ‘The harmful impact of the tobacco industry on the environment is vast and growing, adding unnecessary pressure to our planet’s already scarce resources and fragile ecosystems.

‘Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year and destroys our environment, further harming human health, through the cultivation, production, distribution, consumption, and post-consumer waste.’

Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO, said: ‘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.’

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety at the European Commission, also commented on the health impacts of tobacco worldwide: ‘Every year, the harmful effects of tobacco continue to take their toll on the health of citizens and our societies. The considerable cancer burden associated with tobacco exposure is an unfortunately well-known reality, with lung cancer accounting for around 12% of all new cancer diagnoses in the EU in 2020. It is the fourth most frequently occurring cancer, after prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers. And it is the leading cause of cancer death…

We all can bring positive change against tobacco. On this World No Tobacco Day, I call on everyone to take their health into their own hands, and call quits it on tobacco.’

Louise Ross recently wrote an article in Guidelines in Practice, Never give up encouraging patients to give up smoking, about implementing NICE’s recent tobacco guidance in primary care.

Lead image: Melinda Nagy/stock.adobe.com
Image 1: Melinda Nagy/stock.adobe.com