From growing the tobacco plant to the disposal of butts and packaging, the whole life cycle of a cigarette takes a heavy toll on the environment. September 2021.
Around 1.1 billion people aged 15 and over smoke, with 80% living in LMICs (low and middle income countries). Tobacco growing and consumption have become concentrated in the developing world where the health, economic, and environmental burden is heaviest and likely to increase. July 2019.
Cost of cigarettes must rise to reflect environmental damage from tobacco industry, WHO says
A new report published by the WHO has recommended that the cost of cigarettes should rise to reflect the wide-ranging environmental damage caused by the tobacco industry, and compares the industry’s carbon footprint to that of an entire country. In the UK, which has very little domestic tobacco production, smoking cigarettes “is done entirely at the expense of other nations’ resources and environmental health”, the report said.
Cigarette production and consumption has risen in recent decades with around 6 trillion cigarettes manufactured annually for an estimated 1 billion smokers. Tobacco farms take up more than 20,000 square miles of land globally and use over 22 billion tonnes of water. This is in addition to a range of environmental and social costs including high levels of pesticide use, soil depletion and child labour.
Professor Nick Voulvoulis, co-author of the report, said: “The environmental impacts of cigarette smoking, from cradle to grave, add significant pressures to the planet’s increasingly scarce resources and fragile ecosystems.” Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, co-author of the report, added: “Tobacco transnationals based in high income countries are literally and metaphorically burning the resources and the future of the most vulnerable people on our planet.”
Source: Independent, 2 October 2018
Daily Bulletin 3: Framework Convention Alliance at the WHO FCTC conference of the parties
Highlights from today’s agenda include implementing the ban on Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship – in the digital age; Switzerland’s relationship with the tobacco industry; PMI’s Foundation for a Smoke-Free World; the financial case for investment in tobacco control; the WHO’s new report on the environmental impact of the tobacco industry (see above); and tobacco price fixing in Sri Lanka.
Article 13 – A comprehensive ban on Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS) – is key to reducing the uptake of tobacco and reducing tobacco-related harm. Changing patterns of media consumption present challenges to effectively banning TAPS, particularly cross-border TAPS.
US: FDA seizes documents from Juul in latest e-cigarette crackdown
On Tuesday the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seized over 1,000 pages of documents from e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs, as part of its ongoing investigation into the company’s sales and marketing practices.
Last month the regulator announced that it was considering a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes due to concerns around youth uptake.
Juul makes up around 72% of the US e-cigarette market and has come under increasing scrutiny for its marketing practices, having released over 50,000 pages of documents to the FDA since April.
Source: Reuters, 2 October 2018
Philip Morris lobbying on e-cigarettes hidden from Australian public
Philip Morris International (PMI) has been lobbying Australian MPs to overturn the ban on vaping. This has been effectively hidden from the public due to a loophole in the Australian lobbying oversight system which allows companies to avoid signing up to the country’s lobbying register if they use lobbyists from within their own company rather than hiring a third party lobbyist.
PMI has been seeking meetings with MPs to discuss the vaping ban and engages a number of former government officials, including one registered lobbyist. The company argues that these merely provide advice and do not lobby on PMI’s behalf.
PMI has also taken advantage of an exemption in Australia’s tobacco advertising ban by placing prominent job ads in two major newspapers calling for staff to help it achieve a “future without cigarettes” and a “smoke-free Australia”.
Source: The Guardian, 2 October 2018
Study: US teenagers’ use of e-cigarettes and tobacco linked
A new study by the Rand Corporation has suggested that use of e-cigarettes among teenagers is linked with increased regular cigarette use, and vice versa. Youths who reported vaping at 17 years of age (8%) had a cigarette smoking rate of 6%. By the time they reached 19 years of age the proportion of young people who vaped increased to 9%, whereas the proportion who smoked cigarettes increased to 12%.
The study surveyed over 2,000 youths in California from when they were teenagers continuing until they were young adults.
Study author, Michael Dunbar said: “This highlights the importance of taking steps to prevent youth from vaping in the first place.”
The UK currently bans all forms of tobacco advertising and restricts advertising for e-cigarettes. Age of sale of both tobacco and e-cigarettes is 18.
Source: The Guardian, 2 October 2018
Editorial note: The researchers found that use of e-cigarettes increases the likelihood of youth smoking and vice versa and that there are common risk factors for both.
A recent survey conducted by ASH found that 0.3% of 11-18 year olds who had never smoked were currently using e-cigarettes.
Smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to fall.
See also: ASH survey on youth e-cigarette use
26 September 2018
New report from the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC demonstrates how the tobacco industry destroys the environment and undermines sustainable development
The devastating impact that the tobacco industry has on human health is well known – tobacco use kills about 7 million people each year. However, a new report published today outlines systematically for the first time the substantial impact of the tobacco industry on the environment and on sustainable development. Commissioned by the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control from Imperial College London, the report is being launched at the Eighth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 8) to the WHO FCTC in Geneva today.
Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, said, “Tobacco control is a development issue. The damage to the environment occurs across the entire life cycle of tobacco products due to deforestation, water pollution from pesticide use, and cigarette littering. The WHO FCTC, a treaty that covers more than 90% of the world’s population is the response to this problem.”
This global assessment of tobacco production reveals a massive imbalance. Almost 90% of all tobacco growing is concentrated in the developing world – of the top ten tobacco growing countries, nine are developing and four are low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs), including India, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and Malawi. However, most of the profits from the industry end up in developed countries.
Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, co-author of the report from the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London said, “Tobacco Transnationals based in high income countries are literally and metaphorically burning the resources and the future of the most vulnerable people on our planet.”
The global cultivation of tobacco requires substantial land use, water consumption, pesticides and labour – all finite resources that could be put to better use. Harmful impacts include deforestation leading to climate change; water and soil depletion; human toxicity; ecosystem eutrophication; and acidification.
Processing, the curing of tobacco leaves to produce dry tobacco, is highly energy intensive with use of coal or wood contributing to greenhouse gas emission and deforestation. Additional inputs and waste production occur with the transport and manufacture of cigarettes as well as their final use and disposal.
In a world facing enormous pressures on natural resources, tobacco competes with valuable commodities that are essential for humanity and adds significant pressures on the health of our planet and its most vulnerable inhabitants.
Professor Voulvoulis, co-author of the report from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College, London said, “The environmental impacts of cigarette smoking, from cradle to grave, add significant pressures to the planet’s increasingly scarce resources and fragile ecosystems. Tobacco reduces our quality of life as it competes for resources with commodities valuable to livelihoods and development across the world.”
Tobacco’s environmental footprint, together with its negative health, social and economic implications, make it incompatible with the global sustainable development agenda, in particular SDGs 12 – responsible consumption and production, 13 – climate action, 14 – life under water, and 15 life on land. Maria Zafeiridou, co-author of the report, added “Tobacco control is an indispensable part of any solution to accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable path.”
The report analyses the impact of tobacco globally, at national level among producer countries and for individuals. Globally, the cultivation of 32.4 Million tonnes (Mt) of green tobacco, used for the production of 6.48 Mt of dry tobacco in the six trillion cigarettes manufactured worldwide in 2014, contributes almost 84 Mt CO2 equivalent emissions to climate change – approximately 0.2% of the global total. Tobacco production also uses more than 22 billion tonnes of water.
The report also highlights the excessive environmental impact of tobacco compared to other crops. These typically require fewer inputs, Moreover, the yield of these crops is in many cases considerably higher than that of tobacco. For example, in Zimbabwe a hectare of land could produce 19 times more potatoes than the 1–1.2 tonnes of tobacco currently cultivated.
The evidence also suggests that growing alternative crops is better for farmers and their families. Child labour remains a major issue in tobacco production, impacting on childrens’ health and rights including their access to education.
At an individual level the lifetime environmental impact of being a smoker is calculated: a person smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes per day for 50 years is responsible for 1.4 million litres of water depletion.
The report calls for a range of actions to address these issues. These include strengthening the global evidence base so that gaps in the current environmental data can be filled, encouraging sustainable investment as well as making sure that the environmental cost of tobacco is included in the price and that the industry takes responsibility for the whole life cycle of its products.
Tobacco farmers must be assisted to switch to alternative crops or activities and steps should be taken to minimise environmental damage on farms.
Dr Nicholas Hopkinson said, “As well as the death and disease caused by active and passive smoking, the public need to be aware of the environmental impact of the tobacco industry. Cigarettes should be thought of as an unethical product, not just as one that is harmful to individual consumers.”
Notes and Links:
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control entered into force in February 2005 and has today 181 Parties. The Convention is a milestone in the promotion of public health. It is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of people to the highest standard of health, provides legal dimensions for international health cooperation and sets high standards for compliance. The Conference of the Parties of the WHO FCTC is the governing body of the Convention.
This report was commissioned by the WHO FCTC Convention Secretariat to support the high level segment at the WHO FCTC Conference of the Parties on the environmental impact of tobacco. This report was prepared with the generous funding of the Government of Australia under the Convention Secretariat’s FCTC 2030 project. The preparation of this report was carried out with the support of the WHO FCTC Secretariat and greatly benefited from comments, inputs, and advice provided by Action on Smoking and Health (UK) and the Framework Convention Alliance. The report was prepared independently by the authors, and may not necessarily reflect the views of the funder or the WHO FCTC Secretariat.
Imperial College London is a global top ten university with a world-class reputation in science, engineering, business and medicine.
Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see: www.ash.org.uk/about-ash
Report author, and ASH Board member, Dr Nicholas Hopkinson will be attending the WHO FCTC Conference of the Parties for the launch and will be available for comment. Contact: Deborah Arnott from ASH on +44 (0)7976 935 987.
 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. [for a copy of the embargoed report contact firstname.lastname@example.org]
The report evaluates the global cigarette supply chain and consumption using established life cycle analysis techniques. It uses available published data plus transparent assumptions based on international best practice where data gaps exist. This will allow estimates to be refined over time as new data become available.
The report is based on a scientific analysis published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology:
Zafeiridou, Hopkinson & Voulvoulis. Cigarette Smoking: An Assessment of Tobacco’s Global Environmental Footprint Across Its Entire Supply Chain. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2018, 52 (15), pp 8087–8094. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b01533. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.8b01533?journalCode=esthag
My name is Nick Voulvoulis. I’m a Professor of Environmental Technology here at Imperial College in the Centre for Environmental Policy. My work is mainly on the interface between human systems and natural systems; so understanding how we interact with the environment and live more sustainably.
The problems we face around the planet has to do with how we consume resources. We create waste and pollute, forcing the planet to it limits. Global cigarette consumption has grown dramatically in the last decades with annual production and consumption have been significantly increasing in the developing world.
This summer here at Imperial, with Maria, we worked on trying to understand the environmental impact of the whole of the supply chain of tobacco from cultivation all the way to smoking and final disposal. We tried to capture the resource needs and also the emissions and environmental impact of cigarette smoking. We did this using life cycle analysis and material flow analysis, two popular tools in capturing the environmental footprint in different products.
Using figures based on the year 2014, a total of 32.4 million tonnes of green tobacco leaf were cultivated on 4 million hectares of land, across 125 countries, producing 6.48 million tonnes of dry tobacco, used to manufacture in nearly 500 factories worldwide, making 6 trillion cigarettes sticks that were used in 2014. There are significant resource needs and emissions and waste produced at every stage of the supply chain. The global contribution of the tobacco industry to climate change is around 84 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. When you add it all up, it doesn’t sound fair to expend valuable resources on things that create hospital admissions and cancer in the end.
Smoking does not just affect our health but limits people’s ability to prosper. Sooner or later, the industry will have to face the question of what it has done for us.
Unless we can prove that it is not just for the pockets of multinational companies it will be very difficult to make a case for this to keep going on.
Throughout the whole life cycle of tobacco — from farming through to manufacture and consumption — there is a pronounced threat to the environment.
Despite its enormous profitability, the industry bears few of the health and environmental costs caused by producing tobacco.
The life cycle of tobacco causes deep and often irreparable damage through deforestation, water consumption and the use of pesticides. Greenhouse gases are emitted at every stage, contributing in no small part to climate change . The soil where it is grown is left weak and arid, often turning previously fertile areas into deserts .
A recent report by the United Nations Environmental Programme found that if the tobacco industry was made to pay for the harm that it causes, it would not turn a profit .While smoking rates may be declining in many high-income countries, they are on the rise across many middle- and low-income countries. As consumption increases so does the global environmental impact of the tobacco industry. It is unacceptable that the industry can continue to make billions in profits while washing its hands of the destructive costs of smoking.
So what do we mean when we say ‘the environment’?
The obvious link between ‘tobacco’ and ‘pollution’ draws to mind cigarette smoke, discarded packaging and cigarette butts. This is important, of course, as cigarette butts are the single most littered item in England, but there is more to this issue.
Commercial tobacco farming takes place across 124 countries, primarily in Brazil, India and China. Tobacco companies have shifted 90% of their cultivation and production to lower income countries , in order to cut costs and circumvent regulation. They have chopped down billions of hectares of rainforest  to clear space for tobacco growing, which has increased greenhouse gas emissions and caused largely irreversible damage .
The industry-wide practice of growing tobacco as a ‘monocrop’, which means growing the same crop on the same land year after year, has left over 4 million hectares of this land weak and vulnerable to pests and diseases .
To combat the problems that arise from monocropping, the tobacco industry uses chemicals and pesticides, often ones banned in high-income countries, which are deeply harmful to the environment and the farmers. This practice leads to desertification of the land through wrecking the topsoil and groundwater. It also leaves farmers destitute and dependent on tobacco, since they cannot grow their own food on ruined land. When citizens fight back against this, the transnational tobacco corporations simply pack up and move.
This stage is certainly the least well-documented. Imperial Tobacco has stated that: “our greatest direct impact on the environment comes from our product manufacturing activities” .
Despite this admission, the data on the actual environmental costs are scant. The industry’s own reports on environmental impact are often opaque and use ill-defined data, which makes it difficult to assess the true impact of manufacturing on the environment.
In 2012, 967 million daily smokers consumed over 6 trillion cigarettes worldwide , equating to significant pollution and waste.
The 2014 global estimation for discarded cigarette waste ranges from 340–680 million kilos, of which filters comprise the vast majority. These filters, falsely introduced by the industry on the pretence of being healthier, do not biodegrade under most circumstances . Instead, they can break into smaller plastic pieces, causing them to leach some of the 7,000 chemicals they contain into land and water .
Tobacco industry profits are not only built on a dreadful legacy of death and disease caused by consumption of their products but also made at a major cost to our environment. If the tobacco industry was made to pay for the harm that it causes, it would not turn a profit.
 Cairney P et al. Global Tobacco Control: Power, Policy, Governance and Transfer. [Accessed January 2018]
 Reddy K et al. Report on tobacco control in India. Technical Report New Delhi: Government of India: 142.
 Trucost PLC and TEEB for Business Coalition. Natural capital at risk: the top 100 externalities of business. [Accessed January 2018]
 Martin RM et al. State of the World’s Forests 2012. [Accessed January 2018]
 Chhabra A et al. Land-use and landcover change: local processes and global impacts: 71–116.
 The Tobacco Atlas (website): Land Devoted to Growing Tobacco. [Accessed January 2018]
 Daily Monitor. BAT closes factory in Uganda. 21 June 2013.
 Imperial Tobacco. Progress in responsibility: Corporate Responsibility Review 2006 [Accessed January 2018]
 Ng M et al. Smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption in 187 countries, 1980–2012: 183–192.
 Novotny TE et al. Cigarette Butts and the Case for an Environmental Policy on Hazardous Cigarette Waste: 1691–1705.
 USDHHS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health. A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. [Accessed January 2018]
When we consider the environmental harm caused by tobacco, many of us tend to think about smoking-related litter in the streets see this factsheet on smoking-related litter (PDF)  and this research paper calling for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste  for more information. However, tobacco’s environmental damage goes way beyond the local.
Tobacco farming contributes to deforestation and the pollution of waterways, especially in low and middle income countries.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals  are clear about the importance of the environment for human health and wellbeing. Goal 6 focuses on the availability and sustainability of water and sanitation  and Goal 13 calls for urgent action on climate change and its impacts .
600 million trees fall victim to tobacco farming every year (PDF) . These are cut down to make way for tobacco crops, burned during the tobacco curing process and used for construction of curing barns. Trees are nature’s way of absorbing carbon dioxide, so this loss contributes to climate change. It is also a major contributory factor in weakening the soil and can accelerate soil erosion. It can be devastating to wider local ecosystems due to the loss of habitat and food sources. 
Tobacco is also a sensitive plant, requiring pesticides and other chemicals in order to grow, depleting further the quality of the soil and toxifying local water systems. 
We must #ActOnTobacco now to protect communities, wildlife and the environment.
We call on governments to implement more stringent environmental regulations to minimise the environmental harm caused by tobacco companies. We also want these companies to compensate those affected by their negative and harmful actions, based upon the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle which is often applied to climate change. 
Here’s how you can #ActOnTobacco:
 Public Health England. Smoking: litter. [Accessed April 2017]
 Novotny TE et al. Cigarettes butts and the case for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health May 2009; 6(5): 1691–1705.
 United Nations. Sustainable development goals. [Accessed April 2017]
 United Nations. Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. [Accessed April 2017]
 United Nations. Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. [Accessed April 2017]
 Framework Convention Alliance. Tobacco: A barrier to sustainable development. March 2015.
World Health Organization. Environmental issues. [Accessed April 2017]
 The Guardian. What is the ‘polluter pays’ principle? 2 July 2012.
This article was written by Clif Curtis, Consultant Policy Advisor for US-based (and unaffiliated) public health charity ASH. Reproduced with permission.
For decades now, with cigarette sales having increased to more than six trillion in 2016, tobacco producers have refused to accept any significant responsibility for the serious, global environmental damage resulting from the production, use and disposal of tobacco products. It’s time for new regulations that hold the tobacco industry responsible for contaminating the environment, humans, and animals throughout tobacco’s lifecycle.
Tobacco leaf growing and processing involves heavy pesticide and petroleum-based fertilizer use, land degradation and deforestation. Added waste concerns arise from tobacco manufacturing, packaging, distribution and consumption. These concerns include production of greenhouse gases (C02 and methane), released by manufacturing, transport and smoking of tobacco products; environmental toxins found in secondhand smoke; newly described toxic residuals known as third-hand smoke found attached to surfaces in homes and other enclosed environments where smoking has occurred; and post-consumption toxic tobacco product waste (TPW).
Given experience involving industry acceptance of responsibility by the pesticide, paint and pharmaceutical industries, among others, a strong case can be made for the tobacco industry being responsible for serious environmental problems throughout the tobacco product lifecycle. With butt waste being the most visible lifecycle harm, the tobacco industry clings to its long-held view that smokers and local communities are responsible for post-consumer waste. The industry tries to bolster its image by funding some beach cleanups, Keep America Beautiful, and ash trays. Those downstream actions are minuscule compared to the up-to four trillion butts polluting the globe annually. The tobacco industry has designed a product that is not only deadly when used as directed, but its cultivation, production, distribution, consumption, and post-consumption management also causes substantial and dangerous environmental contamination.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy principle that promotes environmental protection by extending the responsibilities of the producer across the products entire life cycle. As set out in a Swedish doctoral thesis on corporate responsibility by Thomas Lindhqvist in 2000, EPR addresses two core tenets that are highly applicable to tobacco:
1.) Internalizing the environmental cost of products into the retail price; and
2.) Shifting the economic burden of managing toxicity and other environmental harms associated with post-consumer waste from local governments and taxpayers to producers.
While Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is put forward as a legislative approach, it asserts, in the context of tobacco, that the producer would be strictly liable for tobacco product waste. There are several legal theories pertaining to liability, involving potential legal causes of action that also could be applicable. Public nuisance may be the strongest approach, although product liability or hazardous waste laws could successfully hold tobacco producers liable for tobacco product waste.
Raising awareness about the environmental impacts and harm of tobacco and the responsibility of the tobacco industry for those consequences will require media messaging, PR skills, donors to help advance our agenda, and actions by governments at national and subnational levels, in order to succeed. In support of Article 18 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the World Health Organization (WHO) is in the final stages of developing a detailed “Overview” on tobacco and its impacts on the environment. Its release is anticipated to occur on World No Tobacco Day, May 31st, and should be accessible at www.WHO.int.
More broadly, these and other initiatives will provide opportunities to motivate and collaborate with a diverse array of stakeholders in ways that will benefit environmental protection, as well as quality of human health, while increasing the cost of tobacco and reducing tobacco use. This EARTH DAY 2017 blog serves as one of many actions that are needed to protect our global environment, in tandem with a focus, going forward, on promoting a sustainable and healthy planet for all of us.
Clif Curtis serves as a Consultant Policy Advisor for ASH and is the CEO of the Cigarette Butts Pollution Project. He was CEO of the Oceanic Society in the 1980s, a Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace Int. on oceans and sustainable development in the 1990s, Director of WWF Int.’s Global Toxics program in the 2000s, and a consultant more recently focusing on tobacco control with an emphasis on tobacco’s environmental impacts.