Warning! Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous To Your Environment

It may seem hypocritical that a smoker like me is writing about the negative effects of smoking on the environment. 

Although I'm not like a factory chimney billowing smoke in the early 20th century, I admit that I've developed an addiction for smoking cigarettes in the past couple of years. As a person who believes in scientific deductions and inductions, I tend to wean myself from certain bad habits once I learn more about the extent of their harm, that’s why I  wanted to learn more about the ill effects of tobacco production and tobacco smoking. Thus, the raison d’etre of this post is so that I could put numbers and figures up to the perennial idea that smoking is bad for the environment. 

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Facts and Figures

In a 2015 study conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), it was found that almost 1 in every 4 Filipino adults smokes a cigarette, with an average of 11 sticks consumed daily. Data similar to this from the PSA abounds – numerous studies have been made and published on the adverse effects that cigarette smoking has on the health of an individual. However, information on the adverse effects of tobacco production and consumption on the environment, more broadly, remains sparse but is becoming increasingly relevant. 

A global study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018 under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control reflects this very point. The study presents that every stage of a cigarette’s lifespan – from the gathering of raw materials for tobacco production to the eventual consumption by end-users – contributes to large global effects on forestation, coastal rejuvenation, and air pollution. 

Take a look at Figure 2, which depicts the entire tobacco production process and how raw materials and other inputs result in various forms of waste that end up the environment (solid and liquid waste; emissions to air, water, and soil):

Figure 3 is another representation of the grand scale of the global tobacco supply chain, depicting the obscene amount of resources used alongside waste produced.

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Based on the WHO global study, even a single cigarette requires a significant amount of resources to produce. Each cigarette uses 3.7 liters of water, embodies a fossil fuel cost of 3.5 grams oil eq (equivalent), and 14 grams of CO2 eq emissions. To put the amount of water consumed in relative terms, just think that a human being needs to drink 2 liters of water to function well on a daily basis.  As to carbon dioxide emissions, the amount that comes with one cigarette is the same as driving one’s car for 5.5 meters.

To contextualize these facts in the Philippine setting, cigarette butts have been found to be the most common type of coastal trash in the country, according to a recent study by Ocean Conservatory. It takes a minimum of 10 years for cigarette butts to rot and decompose. Other items that have been found to clog our bodies of water include plastic products, diapers, rubber, and styrofoam, which end up polluting our waters and/or disabling sewage systems.

What can I do now? 

Although colorful graphs and numbers may be intriguing to look at, the average smoker will probably ask how these could be useful in their life. I simply hope that this post will inform readers about the global cost on the environment, each time they pick up that stick. Saving the environment doesn’t necessarily involve grand gestures – a lot like love. It’s the small things that count. By deciding to smoke one less cigarette a day, for example, one could already do his or her part in helping Mother Earth. So let’s increasingly be aware of how our seemingly mundane activities could feed into an insidious global problem that affects our very life on this planet, and become more conscious with our own decisions and actions. 

With all of these in mind, I'm trying my best to reduce my personal consumption by at least one stick a week. It may not seem much, considering that I blaze through half a pack on a daily basis, but hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere. Just like with any other addiction, it takes gradual steps to sustainably remove a bad habit. Slowly, willfully, I aim to stop smoking altogether in the long run. My hope is that this post reaches someone, even just one person, who decides to do the same.