The environmental toll of tobacco and nicotine
The benefits of quitting tobacco and nicotine go beyond your own health. When you quit, you help preserve the environment.
In addition to costing 8 million people their lives; every year, the tobacco industry uses “more than 600 million trees, 772 miles of land, more than 24 billion tonnes of water, and 84 million tonnes of CO2”1. To put it into context, a tonne is a unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms or 2204 pounds, and 1 tonne of CO2 is the equivalent of driving 23,000 miles in the average car—that’s once around the world.
One tree only produces 15 packs of cigarettes, which requires hundreds of millions of trees to be chopped down every year. Tobacco manufacturers use 4 miles of paper every hour to wrap and package cigarettes and other products. That means the tobacco industry is a sizable contributor to deforestation.
The U.S. tobacco industry alone produces 16 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 1 year—global tobacco production quadruples that amount. Imagine how clean our air would be if 16 million cars were removed from the streets every year. Eliminating tobacco production would yield the same results.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet. Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, which then seep into our environment when thrown away1. According to Tobacco-Free Life, an organization focused on ending negative health outcomes from tobacco, roughly half of cigarette butts “end up in landfills, and the other half end up in soil, lakes, oceans, and forests.” And, while cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate and are theoretically biodegradable, it takes them almost 2 years to degrade under perfect conditions3.
Additionally, vapes are particularly bad for the environment. They contain 3 known types of harmful waste: plastic, hazardous, and electronic or e-waste4. Single-use pods can’t be recycled with other plastic waste because they contain nicotine and, currently, there’s no proper way to recycle used pods in the U.S. Instead of biodegrading, they break down into microplastics, which go into our water and soil and are toxic to people and animals4.
Take a walk to get started.
If you worry about how your tobacco use negatively affects the environment, something as simple as a walk to distract yourself from smoking or vaping not only combats pollution, but it also relieves stress and improves your mood. As you walk, think about breathing fresh, clean air into your lungs. Consider how quitting smoking improves respiratory and cardiovascular systems, making it easier to be active and enjoy the outdoors. Take note of how much better you can breathe when you don’t smoke.
Quitting nicotine products saves your health and the world around you. So, the next time you have the urge to smoke or vape, go out and enjoy our beautiful world and the air you breathe—it’s cleaner, thanks to you!