What do you think about smoking

How harmful is smoking to the environment?

You eat CO2-consciously, ride a bike and wear second-hand jeans. But does environmental awareness stop when you smoke? Here you can read why an ecological lifestyle and smoking do not go together at all. Rapper Visa Vie also has a lot to say on the subject. You can find your video at the bottom of the page.

More and more people are paying attention to protecting the environment in their lifestyle. They buy organic food, wear certified sustainable clothing, ride a bike instead of a car and forego the annual vacation flight. What is often forgotten: the cigarette also harms the planet.

Bad environmental balance: According to the WHO, tobacco is a threat to many of the earth's resources

When people talk about smoking, it is usually about the innumerable diseases or damage to one's own body that cigarettes cause. Every now and then also about the harm caused by secondhand smoke to others. The poor environmental balance of cigarettes, on the other hand, is rarely an issue. Nevertheless, smoking causes environmental damage. Quite a lot, as a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) published in 2017 shows. "Tobacco threatens many of the earth's resources," reads the 70-page report, "its effects go far beyond the effects of the smoke that tobacco products emit into the air when they are consumed."

But one after anonther. The impact smoking has on the environment becomes very clear when you follow a cigarette from its creation to its end. In principle, environmental damage can be divided into three parts: damage caused during production, damage caused by smoking, and damage caused by cigarettes long after they have been smoked.

The environmental damage caused by tobacco production

A tree is felled for one and a half cartons of cigarettes

In 2012, according to the WHO report, tobacco was grown on 4.3 million hectares worldwide. An area as large as Denmark and as large as the global area where apples are grown. Forests are being cleared to make room for tobacco plantations. In addition, trees have to be felled to meet the wood requirements for drying the tobacco. That is 11.4 million tons annually - the wood for the cigarette paper is also added. In some countries, such as Malawi, tobacco growing has become the main reason for deforestation. This is the equivalent of cutting one tree for 300 cigarettes (one and a half cartons).

Tobacco is grown as a monoculture and the farmers use lots of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides to help the plants grow and thrive. They often use substances that are banned in many other countries because they harm both the farmers themselves and the environment. The monocultures also damage the soil because they leach it heavily. As a result of the cultivation, the soil is less well protected against wind and rain and is increasingly being eroded, leading to increased soil erosion.

Tobacco production consumes and pollutes a lot of water

In addition to fire and earth, tobacco production needs another element: water. In order to produce a ton of tobacco, producers need 2925 cubic meters of water, which is more than twice as much as for a ton of maize. In total, 22 billion cubic meters of water are used every year. This does not even include the water that is contaminated during production. The pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals used ended up in the groundwater, according to a report on the consequences of tobacco cultivation published by the organizations Bread for the World, unfairtobacco.org and the Environment and Development Forum. An example is the Bandarban district in Bangladesh, where tobacco is grown along the Matamuhuri River. The pollutants caused fish deaths and the loss of the fertile shoreline for food cultivation. It goes on to say: "Where the poison does not kill the fish, it returns to humans via the food chain."

Bad for the air: Tobacco causes a lot of emissions

And the last element, the air, is also affected by tobacco cultivation. Like all industries, tobacco production also generates a lot of emissions. Converted to CO2-Equivalents are attributed to the tobacco industry about 8.76 million tons annually. For the same amount of CO2 17.7 million people could fly from Frankfurt to Mallorca and back once.

There's something in the air: How cigarette consumption pollutes

When the cigarette is actually smoked, the environment is also polluted - by the smoke itself. It consists of thousands of different chemical components, various gases and tiny droplets. According to estimates by the WHO report, when you smoke a cigarette, between 1.9 and 5.3 milligrams of nicotine is released into the air - extrapolated to the world, that makes between 12,000 and 47,000 tons annually. Cigarette smoke also contains: ammonia, pyridine, styrene, toluene, benzene, isoprene, 1,3-butadiene, acetaldehyde, acrolein, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Nothing but garbage: Leftovers from cigarettes are not only annoying, they are also dangerous

Cigarette butts are rubbish. Nonetheless, smokers often throw them away (on average two out of three) wherever they happen to be. Every year the organization Ocean Conservancy publishes a report on the trash people who clean the beaches find there. Since 1986, the year the first report was made, cigarette butts have always been the number one litter item.

The stubs are not just annoying for bathers. They contain nicotine, arsenic and heavy metals - and that is just a selection of the several thousand chemical substances contained in the stumps, many of which are carcinogenic. Fish, birds or even marine mammals eat the stub and poison themselves on it. In a study carried out in 2011, US researchers showed, for example, that a stub in a liter of water contaminated the water so much that New World earfish and fathers-headed elnows swimming around in it died. The substances also get into humans via the food chain.

Toxins and microplastics damage the environment

Especially in urban areas, however, cigarette butts lying around are washed out by the rain and the substances end up in rivers, water bodies and groundwater. A cigarette can contaminate up to 1000 liters of water with too high a nicotine load.

In addition to toxins, cigarettes also pollute the environment with microplastics. The filters are to blame for that. Although the producers make them from the vegetable substance cellulose, further processing creates a plastic that is very difficult to decompose. And last, but certainly not least, it is always carelessly flicked away but still glowing cigarette butts that start fires, sometimes entire forest fires.

So if you really want to live sustainably and do not want to harm the environment, you should also refrain from cigarettes and other tobacco products. Because they put a lot of strain on the planet. The question of whether Fairtrade cigarettes could be a way out is also quickly answered: there are none. Why? "Tobacco is not an ethically acceptable product from a social, health or ecological point of view," says Hannah Radke from Fairtrade Germany (the association that awards the seal). For this reason, Fairtrade decided against certification some time ago. "As a sustainable organization," says Radke, "we don't want to support any product that is so harmful to people and the environment."

Visa Vie explains: How bad is smoking for the environment?