In addition to its impact on health, the tobacco industry has harmful effects on our planet and our ocean throughout its life cycle, leading to deforestation, soil and water pollution and impacting ecosystems. Whether we’re talking about traditional manufactured cigarettes or new electronic tobacco products, tobacco producers are producing ecotoxic bombs that are poisoning our environment for good, and you may not be aware of it!
The cigarette butt, a toxic plastic bomb
Each year, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts end up in the environment.
The result is : cigarette butts are the first litter to be found in towns, along rivers and on beaches during ocean initiatives (see Environmental Report). It is a real environmental scourge with both plastic and chemical pollution: plastic linked to the cellulose acetate filter and chemical due to the toxic substances present in tobacco.
Once in the environment, the cigarette butt will break down into micro and nano particles of plastic releasing the 7,000 toxic chemical substances they contain, such as nicotine, arsenic, mercury, ammonia, and lead. Specifically, nicotine from the butts can seep into water within 24 hours, potentially contaminating up to 1,000 litres of water.
These pollutants will have a direct impact on marine ecosystems: studies revealed that cigarette butt waste can inhibit the growth of marine plants and release enough toxins to cause a 50% mortality rate in fish within 96 hours.
A mandatory butt collection opens the door to greenwashing
To fight pollution from cigarette butts, the European Union has adopted measures to ehance the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in 2019 as part of the Directive on single-use plastic products. In application of the polluter pays principle, tobacco producers have to cover the costs of cleaning, collecting, transporting and treating cigarette butts, as well as awareness-raising measures. One might think that this is a good thing, except that tobacco producers are using it to burnish their image, making us believe that the industry is committed to the environment. Above all, these measures enable them to renew their ties with the public authorities, which is contrary to the WHO’s international agreement on tobacco control, which prohibits any influence from the industry in politics.
The electronic tobacco industry polluting more and more.
Made of plastic and lithium batteries, cigarette butts are now joined by new types of waste: disposable electronic cigarettes, or “puffs”. These new products, created by the tobbacco industry to appeal to the younger generation thanks to their unbeatable prices and tastes that would make Chupa Chups envious, they’re already finding their way into the environment, with disastrous consequences.
These devices add to the over 50 million tons of electrical and electronic waste produced worldwide, which, according to the United Nations, are the leading source of pollution. Batteries, which already require a great deal of water for lithium extraction, release heavy metals (such as mercury, lead, and bromine), acid, and nicotine when they end up in the environment, damaging the health of ecosystems.
Over and above the chemical pollution they cause, and because they are single-use and non-recyclable (the batteries are moulded directly into the plastic), these disposable electronic cigarettes contribute to global plastic pollution.
The tobacco industry must be held responsible for its impact
Despite the disastrous consequences of its activities on the planet and the ecotoxicity of its products, the tobacco industry enjoys a socially acceptable image in the eyes of public opinion and institutions by boasting positive environmental actions backed by CSR labels.
Faced with this situation, Surfrider Europe and the French Alliance Against Tobacco call on the tobacco industry to:
– enshrine in European Union law a ban on the tobacco industry promoting environmental responsibility activities to the public
– Ban disposable electronic cigarettes such as Puff
The tobacco industry is also killing the environment. Be aware of the real impacts of this industry and help preserve our oceans by not littering any cigarette butts or tobacco products in the environment.
To quit smoking : WHO quitting toolkit