The tobacco industry is “one of the biggest polluters”, warns the WHO

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The tobacco industry has a “disastrous impact on the environment”, WHO director for health promotion, Rüdiger Krech, warned on Tuesday.

Tobacco is not only harmful to health, it is also harmful to the planet. The tobacco industry is indeed the cause of considerable environmental damage, between mountains of pollution and emissions contributing to climate change, warned Tuesday May 31 the World Health Organization (WHO).

The tobacco industry is “one of the biggest polluters we know of”, WHO director for health promotion, Rüdiger Krech, told AFP, presenting a report with “quite disastrous” conclusions. .


Some 4.5 trillion cigarette butts each year

The document, titled “Tobacco, poison for our planet”, looks at the environmental footprint of the sector as a whole, from the cultivation of the plants to the manufacture of tobacco products, including consumption and waste.

While the industry is responsible for the loss of 600 million trees, tobacco growing uses 200,000 hectares of land and 22 billion tonnes of water each year, and emits around 84 million tonnes of CO2, according to the report.

“Tobacco products, which are the most frequently thrown away litter on the planet, contain more than 7,000 chemical compounds which, once thrown away, spread into the environment”, continues Rüdiger Krech.

Each of the 4.5 trillion cigarette butts that end up in nature each year can pollute up to 100 liters of water, he points out.

child labor

The health hazards of tobacco are not limited to consumption and waste: almost a quarter of tobacco growers suffer from green tobacco sickness, a form of nicotine poisoning through the skin.

In constant contact with tobacco leaves, these growers consume the equivalent of the nicotine contained in 50 cigarettes a day, explains Rüdiger Krech, who points out that the sector employs a large number of children. “Just imagine: a 12-year-old child exposed to 50 cigarettes a day,” he concludes.

According to the report, tobacco is often grown in rather poor countries, where water and cultivated land are often scarce, and where these crops take the place of crucial food production.

Tobacco cultivation is also responsible for about 5% of deforestation worldwide, and contributes to the depletion of precious water reserves.

A significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions also comes from the processing and transportation of tobacco – the equivalent of one-fifth of the carbon footprint of air travel.

The WHO also warns about tobacco-derived products – cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes – which contribute significantly to the accumulation of plastic pollution in the world.

Cigarette filters contain traces of micro-plastics, these small fragments found in oceans around the world, including at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest in the world – making it the second largest source of pollution plastic in the world.

Polluter pays

Contrary to what the tobacco industry claims, there is however no evidence that these filters have a beneficial effect on health, underlines the WHO.

The UN agency therefore urges policymakers around the world to treat these filters as single-use plastics, and to consider banning them.

She also laments that the gigantic costs of cleaning up the tobacco industry’s waste are borne by taxpayers around the world.

According to the report, China spends about $2.6 billion annually to treat waste from tobacco products. For India, the bill amounts to 766 million dollars, while Brazil and Germany must pay 200 million dollars each.

The WHO therefore insists that more countries follow the example of France and Spain by adopting the polluter-pays principle. For Rüdiger Krech, it is important that “industry really pays for the damage it is creating.”

With AFP

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