India has recently banned smoking in public places. Why? Because ‘Smoking is injurious to health’. All of us know that, or at least have heard that before. But, how many of us know that ‘Smoking is injurious to environment’ as well? The entire lifecycle of a cigarette causes tremendous harm to the environment. How? Let us find out.
Cigarettes, bidis, and cigars are all made of tobacco leaves. China, India, Brazil and the United States are the leading producers of tobacco in the world. Its global trade is worth more than US$30 billion. But, this seemingly profitable business causes huge environmental damages where it sells the products, as well as where it sets up production units.
Tobacco is a cash crop. Like all plantation crops, it also requires clearing of fertile land, which were till then being used to grow cereals or oil seeds, or other such essential varieties. Tempting prices lure farmers to clear forests and shift to tobacco. In the race to reap more profit, they often risk far too much. Approximately 2,00,000 hectares of forests/woodlands are replaced by tobacco farming each year.
Tobacco is usually planted as a single crop. Growing a single crop for successive seasons reduces soil fertility and the local biological diversity. As the plants are mainly grown in hilly areas, the roots of the plants cannot hold on to the topsoil and protect it against erosion.
Tobacco is grown in dry and semi-arid areas. So, it needs intensive irrigation. It also consumes large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides, as it is a sensitive plant prone to many diseases. It requires up to 16 applications of pesticide during its three-month lay growing period! And depending on the soil type, 80 to 200 kilogrammes of chemical fertilisers!
About half of the tobacco leaves produced in Africa and Asia are cured or dried using wood. An average of 7.8 kg of wood is needed to cure a kg of tobacco! Trees from a hectare of land may be needed to cure a tonne of tobacco. This further depletes forest cover. As per a study by the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, the use of fuelwood between 1962 and 2002 for tobacco curing and production of cigarettes and other smoking consumables has estroyed and degraded 680 sq. km of scrub forests, or nearly 868 million tonnes of wood, through successive extraction.
The making of cigarettes and cigars also produces large quantities of waste in the form of tobacco slurries, solvents, oils and greases, paper, wood, plastic, packaging materials and results in air pollution. In 1995, the global tobacco industry produced an estimated 2262 million kg of manufacturing waste and 209 million kg of chemical waste.
Despite this, only six countries in the world have regulations on chemicals produced during and from cigarette production. Additional pressure on forests comes from the use of paper for wrapping, packaging, and advertising cigarettes. About four to five tonnes of wood are required to make a tonne of paper, so every tonne of tobacco product sold would require some eight to 15 tonnes of wood for making packaging material.
Cigarette butts and packaging are also major sources of street litter and garbage. So, if the real costs are added, it would increase the price of raw tobacco by 20 per cent and finished product by 40 per cent, says Paulo De Riotta, an environmental economist with the University of Reading, UK, in the ‘Report on Tobacco Control in India’ produced by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s, Government of India.
“If regulations could push for full environmental cost accounting, companies would be compelled to raise the price of cigarettes, which would prove to be a major deterrent for consumers and the industry”, it adds. Seems like another great option for reducing the addiction to smoking.
In India, women and children make up the majority of the labour force for tobacco production. According to a report by an advocacy group, Global March Against Child Labour, New Delhi, an estimated 20,000 children work in tobacco farms and another 27,000 children work in bidi-making or packing cigarettes. Women constitute 76 per cent of the total labour force in bidi manufacture.
Tobacco is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the world! Worldwide, 5 million people die of tobacco related diseases each year.
The World Health Organisation has predicted that by the year 2025, 500 million people worldwide will have died from tobacco related illness. This is equivalent to a Titanic sinking every 43 minutes for 27 years.
Tobacco use kills more people everyday than three jumbo jet crashes.
Time ticks away: every cigarette reduces human life span by 7 minutes.
The average loss of life for all smokers whose deaths are attributable to tobacco is about 16 years.
Global Death Clock: Since October 25, 1999, tobacco has killed 28,116,535 people around the world.
Of the 1000 teenagers smoking today, 500 will eventually die of tobacco related diseases – 250 in their middle age and 250 in their old age.
Everyday, approximately 80,000 to 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco.
Tobacco causes deforestation in three ways: forests cleared for cultivation of tobacco; fuelwood stripped from forests for curing; and forest resources used for packaging of tobacco leaves, cigarettes, and other products.