October 08, 2016 6 min read

Society tends to focus on the health issues associated with  smoking cigarettes, but there are a number of equally devastating issues. Sadly the smoking of cigarettes affects our entire world. Cigarette butts and smoke cause air, water and land pollution. Even tobacco production negatively impacts our environment. There are already so many reasons not to smoke, and I’m sure you are familiar with most, but I am going to share some facts about how horribly it affects our whole world.

Environmental Damage

Let’s start with some steps of the tobacco manufacturing process. From deforestation to erosion and run-off associated with the tobacco growing processes, the environment is damaged every day by this industry. In Africa, around 5% of deforestation is caused by the tobacco industry and in Malawi, where the ancient dry forests of the miombo highlands are particularly threatened, tobacco accounts for 20% of deforestation.

The process of growing, curing, and transporting tobacco requires the use of chemicals and can leach the soil of beneficial minerals and nutrients. The tobacco plant in itself is potassium- hungry and absorbs up to 6 times as much as other crops which leaves soil in poor condition as is.

Additionally, consider that one of the most frequently used chemicals in tobacco production is Aldicarb. Aldicarb is exceptionally toxic to humans, and equally toxic to most animals. Furthermore, production waste is often comprised of imidacloprid (a systemic insecticide which acts as an insect neurotoxin), chlorpyrifos (a crystalline organophosphate insecticide, acaricide and miticide), 1,3—dichloropropene (an organochlorine compound), aldicarb (a carbamate insecticide), dithane DF and methyl bromide (a fumigant in developing countries). All of these can potentially cause harm to humans, plants, and animals. Methyl Bromide also significantly contributes to ozone depletion.

Tobacco is a sensitive plant prone to tons of diseases; therefore it requires huge chemical inputs: up to 16 applications of pesticide are suggested during one three-month growing period. As far back as 1995, the tobacco industry was producing an estimated 2,262 million kilograms of manufacturing waste and 209 million kilograms of chemical waste each year. Sadly, this rate has only increased since that time.

Each year nearly 600 million trees are destroyed to provide fuel when drying tobacco and for every one tree destroyed only a mere 300 cigarettes are made. Unfortunately, countless trees are destroyed and used to continue this process. When curing tobacco a total of 11.4 million tons of solid wood is used annually throughout the world.

Personally, I am an individual who loves nature and the creatures that inhabit it; that being said the knowledge I have learned about the impact this industry has on our world sickens me.According to the Arbor Day Foundation, "a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year." But yet it is still okay for companies to tear them down to make disgusting cigarettes that only pollute the air more? To me, this is illogical and nauseating!

Air Pollution

When you light up a cigarette you are polluting the air by creating second- hand smoke; cigarettes contain two major air polluting chemicals (along with about 4,000 other chemicals). Those chemicals are Carbon Dioxide and Methane; while these two aren't lethal to humans who smoke one cigarette, they do contribute to overall atmospheric pollution. Smokers worldwide release about 2.6 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide and about 5.2 billion kilograms of methane into the air every year.

Second-hand smoke can be a direct or indirect danger to other people or animals. There have been many examples where second-hand smoke was speculated to be responsible for cancer in nonsmokers, as well as other instances of illness.

Many household pets can quickly be overwhelmed or even harmed by secondhand smoke as well; quite possibly causing different types of cancer depending on the animal. Formally I had no knowledge of these facts, but when I was a smoker if I had known that my pets and environment were in danger from my habit, I would have tried quitting much sooner!


As if deforestation isn’t bad enough forest fires caused by lite cigarettes are also polluting our world. These fires also cause massive deforestation, devastation and occasionally can even be impossible to stop through man-made interventions. In China, during the end of 1987, a massive forest fire started when someone dropped their cigarette butt. In the end, the fire killed 300 people and nearly 5,000 others were made homeless by the damage. Overall, nearly 1.3 million hectares of land were destroyed. Animals who called this land their home were also killed or displaced. This has an impact on the local and world ecology, and can even impact farming and local industry by removing resources.

Residential homes are at risk too. Many residential fires are caused by cigarettes left to burn or dropped when the smoker falls asleep. It has been estimated that 17,000 people worldwide are killed each and every year as a result of fires that are caused by cigarettes or cigarette lighters. This causes property damage in excess of US $27 billion each year. Anyone within the home at the time the fire occurs is at risk of being killed or severely injured; there have been situations where smokers have fallen asleep and not woken in time to escape the home.

Cigarette Butts

Sometimes simple or small things can pose the biggest problems of all; cigarette butts are small, but they are by far the most common thing polluted in the whole world. Some people think it’s not a big deal to throw their cigarette butts on the ground, but they are very wrong.

Consider that cigarette butts are not biodegradable. Tobacco itself is biodegradable, and will break down over time, but many of the other ingredients used to make the actual cigarette are not. Filters are made from something called cellulose acetate, which is a form of plastic. Cellulose acetate is photo-degradable, meaning it will break down when exposed to UV rays, but the amount of time that this takes is extensive. Even when cigarettes are photodegraded, pieces of the original material will stay in the soil for an indefinite period of time. Researchers estimate that it may take as long as 10 years for a single cigarette butt to break down completely.

While cigarette butts lying around on the ground aren't exactly aesthetically pleasing, the real issue occurs when they begin to impact children, wildlife, and pets. Cigarette filters and butts are poisonous. Thousands of children are poisoned by eating cigarette butts or cigarette parts each year. A parent does not need to smoke with a child at risk; many young children will pick up items off of the ground from curiosity, and very young children often explore with their mouths. Children who ingest cigarette butts may experience vomiting, nausea, pale skin tones, higher low blood pressure, lethargy, gagging, and a host of other symptoms.

Cigarette butts are scattered on the ground by those who smoke, and also find their way onto the ground through trash. Cigarette butts can even end up along shorelines, waterways, and wetlands. In an annual global survey by the Ocean Conservancy, it was shown that cigarette filters are the most commonly littered item. This has held true for over 20 years. Cigarette butts pose problems for waterways in several different ways.

Consider that in 2008, the International Coastal Cleanup clean nearly 3.2 million cigarette butts from beaches and waterways around the world. They estimated that during the 2009 cleanup, cigarette filters and pieces of cigarettes accounted for nearly twice the amount of all other debris.

Not only do these parts of cigarettes look bad, they also harm many different forms of life and nature. Fish are even impacted by cigarettes being dropped on the ground. they can find their way into waterways, and can be eaten by the fish that live within them because they look similar to an insect or worm. Imagine the fact of animals eating cigarette butts and then possibly becoming your food or the food of the animals that prey upon them, it becomes disturbing to think about how far this can spread and harm so many living things.

This is not the only way in which they are dangerous to fish though; a research study in the United States showed that the runoff from just one cigarette butt was enough to kill a fish living in a 1 liter container of water. When you consider that millions of cigarette butts are dropped on the ground and into waterways each year, it is easy to understand how dangerous cigarettes are to the ecosystem! We all inhabit this world and I believe that we should be held accountable for the

damage done to it, but even though that's not necessarily a reality we should still consider anything we all can do to improve the world!


By choosing to smoke, you are choosing to support this environmental damage. The best thing you or anyone else can do for the world is to stop smoking, stop supporting an industry that is hurting you and everything/ everyone around you! If you’ve already quit smoking than the best option is to help someone else too; this addiction is horrible in so many ways. We all have to work together to stop this evil and help save our environment!

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