Tobacco is bad for our health and the health of our planet – message for World No Tobacco Day

27 May 2022
3 min read
Published:

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) is calling for more action to end tobacco harm this World No Tobacco Day (May 31), as statistics bring to light the massive impact of tobacco on the environment.

The tobacco industry contributes 84 megatons of CO2 emissions into the air each year and chops down 600m trees to make cigarettes. This year, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) annual global campaign is calling for the tobacco industry to be held accountable – and giving smokers one more reason to quit.

For World No Tobacco Day ASH is releasing new data which shows the level of public support for measures to protect the environment. A recent YouGov survey commissioned by ASH found 82 per cent of people agreed that cigarette butts that contain plastic should be banned to protect the environment. [1]

Tobacco kills over eight million people every year [2] and has a significant impact on the environment – from cultivation, production, distribution, consumption and post-consumer and waste.

Tobacco farming across 125 countries results in the annual destruction of 3.5 million hectares of land, contributing to deforestation and harming food production [3]. Trillions of cigarette butts are used and thrown into the environment every year and are the most common form of plastic pollution. [4]

Cigarette butts are not harmless as they are made of cellulose acetate, a man-made plastic material, which takes years to degrade and dumps a toxic mix of nicotine, arsenic and heavy metals into our water, soil and oceans before turning into microplastic pollution. [5]

Plastic filters were invented in the 1950s in response to lung cancer fears and tobacco manufacturers marketed filtered cigarettes as a healthier option. [6] However, cigarette filters have not been proven to deliver significant health benefits nor prevent people from the burden of smoking related diseases. [7]

In England cigarette butts account for 66 per cent of litter as the 55.92m cigarettes consumed each day result in 2,972 tonnes of waste each year, of which 1,248 tonnes ends up as street litter [8].

Removing plastic from cigarettes could help solve part of the problem, but the damage caused by tobacco at every stage is still costing the planet, and the tobacco industry needs to be held accountable.

In March 2021 the government committed to investigate “ways we can reduce the burden tobacco has on our health and our streets, both through the tobacco control plan, due to be published later this year, and the Environment Bill.” [9] Over a year later although the Environment Bill has received royal assent, there’s still no Tobacco Control Plan and no action from government.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said, “Over a year ago Ministers committed to explore making tobacco manufacturers pay the full disposal costs of tobacco waste products.[10] They even described how it could be achieved, using environment legislation. Since then another 1,200 tonnes of cigarette butts have been littered on our streets, but we’ve heard nothing more from Ministers. On World No Tobacco Day we call on the Government to introduce the regulations needed to require tobacco manufacturers to pay to clear up this blight on our communities.”

Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, chair of ASH and co-author on a WHO report on the global environmental impact of tobacco,[10] Nick Hopkinson said, “People need to realise that smoking not only kills smokers; cigarette filters are the single biggest source of global plastic pollution, soaked in toxic chemicals which are hugely damaging for our river and marine life. Growing and curing tobacco drives deforestation, damages the environment and contributes to food scarcity in low- and middle-income countries. Cigarettes are an unethical product, robbing smokers in the UK of their health and increasing their risk of premature death, whilst burning the resources of the developing world.”

Councillor David Fothergill, chair of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board, said, “Local authorities want smokers to quit to protect their health and increase their income, but it also costs councils millions to collect the litter smokers drop. Cigarette butts are the single most littered item in this country and collecting it from streets, parks and beaches is costly and time consuming. On World No Tobacco Day I ask smokers to stub it out for good to protect themselves and their communities.”

Visit www.nhs.uk/better-health/quit-smoking/ to find out where you can get free access to the latest quitting aids, apps, information, one-to-one advice, and local support.

References:

[1] Cigarette butts that contain plastic should be banned to protect the environment

Total sample size was 13,088 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th – 21st February 2022 by YouGov Plc.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)

           
    North East North West Yorks and the Humber East Mids West Mids East of England London South East South West Wales Scotland
  Agree 81% 80% 83% 80% 79% 81% 80% 83% 86% 84% 83%
  Don’t know 7% 6% 4% 6% 7% 6% 7% 4% 4% 5% 5%
  Disagree 3% 3% 3% 3% 3% 3% 3% 2% 2% 3% 2%

[2] https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-no-tobacco-day/2022

[3] https://www.who.int/news/item/13-12-2021-protect-the-environment-world-no-tobacco-day-2022-will-give-you-one-more-reason-to-quit

[4] https://www.earthday.org/tiny-but-deadly-cigarette-butts-are-the-most-commonly-polluted-plastic/

[5] https://www.earthday.org/tiny-but-deadly-cigarette-butts-are-the-most-commonly-polluted-plastic/

[6] Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising. Filter Safety Myths. Accessed February 2022. Available at: https://tobacco.stanford.edu/cigarettes/filter-safety-myths/

[7] Burns DM, Major JM. Smoking lower yield cigarettes and disease risk in: Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph No. 13. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute; 2001:65-158. Available at: https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/brp/tcrb/monographs/monograph-13

[8] Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Ready Reckoner 2022

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-explores-next-steps-to-clean-up-tobacco-litter-in-england

[10] Zafeiridou, Hopkinson & Voulvoulis. “Cigarette smoking: an assessment of tobacco’s global environmental footprint across its entire supply chain, and policy strategies to reduce it.” Technical report for the WHO FCTC.2018 https://fctc.who.int/publications/m/item/cigarette-smoking