The World HealthOrganisation (WHO) has highlighted the dangerous impacts of tobacco to society, saying more than eight million human lives, 600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 80 million tonnes of Carbon dioxide (CO2), among others, are lost to tobacco industries annually.
The global body made the claim in a publication on Tuesday as part of activities to mark this year’s World No Tobacco Day, which has been set aside by the organisation to sensitise the public on the danger inherent in tobacco, tobacco products and industries.
WHO, in the publication, also urged policymakers to consider banning cigarette filters, noting that they contain microplastics, which it said make up the second-highest form of plastic pollution worldwide.
It further explained that smoking is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. It said 70 out of 7,000 chemicals in tobacco cause cancer in humans and animals.
Tobacco harms the planet
In the latest WHO report, titled: “Tobacco: Poisoning Our Planet,” the global body said tobacco’s impact on the environment occurs at various stages, from growing and cultivation to the use and disposal of tobacco products.
The report states in part; “Each of these stages has negative implications for the environment, including the use of precious resources such as water and trees and the creation of pollutants through manufacturing.
“Production and consumption of tobacco also contribute to global warming, releasing 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment each year, the equivalent of driving 17 million gasoline-powered cars each year.
“Tobacco’s long history of negative health implications is well known, including the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory illnesses, but what is less often discussed is the harmful effects it has on the health of our planet.”
It added that tobacco cultivation destroys forests, damages soil and depletes water supplies, while manufacturing contributes to the production of toxic waste.
Impact on farmer livelihood, health
WHO further noted that tobacco farmers and their families are exposed to several health risks.
It added that as many as 25 per cent of tobacco farmers are affected by green tobacco sickness, a disease caused by nicotine absorbed through the skin from the handling of tobacco leaves.
In addition to direct exposures, WHO said “tobacco farmers often bring harmful exposures back home on their bodies, clothes or shoes, leading to secondary harmful exposures for their families.”
“Children are particularly vulnerable, given their body weight relative to the proportion of nicotine absorbed through their skin.
“Pregnant women are disproportionally affected by the harmful effects of tobacco farming and face a higher risk of miscarriage,” WHO said.
On agrochemical use, WHO said tobacco growing requires heavy use of pesticides and fertilisers, which it noted contribute to soil degradation.
“Land used for growing tobacco then has a lower capacity for growing other crops, such as food, since tobacco depletes soil fertility,” it added.
WHO also revealed in the report that the depletion of precious water resources is another harmful consequence of tobacco production. It said its production requires up to eight times more water than tomatoes or potatoes.
It explained that every year, about 22 billion tonnes of water are used in tobacco production globally, which it said is the equivalent of 15 million olympic-sized swimming pools, or roughly the volume of water discharged by the Amazon.
“These water-use estimates are likely an underestimate,” it said, adding that; “A large proportion of tobacco product waste, which consists mostly of cigarette butts, finds its way into bodies of water and water sources.”
However, WHO said taking legal measures to reduce tobacco growing and helping farmers to move into the production of other foods, seems to be more efficient.
Call to action
The global health organisation, therefore, called on the general public to advocate a cleaner environment free of tobacco product waste to protect the ecosystem.
It said: “Encourage tobacco users to quit by educating them on the negative environmental impacts of tobacco
“Support policy action for a ban on single-use plastics, which include cigarette filters, smokeless tobacco pouches and disposable electronic nicotine delivery systems
“Raise awareness of the tobacco industry’s greenwashing tactics and support governments in introducing additional levies and taxes on industry to protect the environment.”
About World No Tobacco Day
WHO’s member-states had in 1987 set aside every May 31 “to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes.”
The global health organisation said in 1987, the World Health Assembly passed Resolution WHA40.38, calling for 7 April 1988 to be “a world no-smoking day.” In 1988, Resolution WHA42.19 was passed, calling for the celebration of World No Tobacco Day, every year on 31 May.
The theme for this year’s awareness campaign is; “Tobacco: Poisoning Our Planet”.(Premium Times)