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How Smoking Affects the Environment

Abhijit Naik
While the effects of smoking on human body have become talk of the town of late, its effects on the environment is something that hasn't been given the due importance as yet. Discussed in this write-up are the environmental impacts of smoking which put forth a gruesome picture of the same.
If you were of the opinion that smoking is only injurious to those who smoke cigarettes, the environmental impacts of the same are bound to come as a surprise for you. In fact, the effects of smoking on environment are even more serious as the pollution caused by it makes scores of people who don't smoke vulnerable to the hazards of the same.
More importantly, these effects are not just restricted to air pollution; but go well beyond it to indirect consequences such as destruction of forests and degradation of the marine ecosystem.

Smoking and the Environment

Air pollution is no doubt the major environmental issue related to cigarette smoking. Tobacco smoke contains somewhere around 4000 harmful chemicals - around 60 of which are considered to be carcinogens, that are released in the atmosphere when you resort to smoking.
Similarly, harmful gases which are produced as a result of smoking - such as carbon monoxide, make it one of the most prominent source of indoor air pollution. Irrespective of whether you smoke or you don't smoke, you end up coming in contact with these harmful gases which are released into the atmosphere as a result of smoking.
Passive smoking or second hand tobacco smoke is known to result in as many as 600,000 premature deaths in the world every single year.
Alongside air pollution, millions of cigarette butts dumped on the ground also result in soil pollution - when they come in direct contact with the soil, and water pollution - when they are drained into some source of water as a result of surface runoff. As these dumped cigarette butts start decomposing, the harmful components in them are added to the soil.
Similarly, when these cigarette butts are dumped into different sources of water they pollute these water bodies and threaten the lifeforms which inhabit them. The fact that these butts are carried off to the oceans along with surface runoff spells disaster for marine lifeforms in the long term.
That is some serious damage to the environment considering that the number of cigarette butts that are dumped is estimated to be somewhere around 5 trillion per year.

Cigarettes Production Process

While the aforementioned effects begin after you resort to smoking, the indirect effects of smoking begin way before that - with the production of cigarettes to be precise. Statistics suggest that 4 miles of paper is used every hour to produce cigarettes (which includes both rolling and packaging of cigarettes), and several hundreds of trees are brought down for this paper.
The tobacco has to be cured before it is used for the production of cigarettes, and somewhere around 600 million trees are burned for this very purpose every year. The tobacco plant is vulnerable to pests, and the pesticides which are used to keep these pests at bay end up polluting the soil.
Add to it the amount of electricity and water used in the production of cigarettes, and the cost incurred on it in terms of environmental damage becomes even heftier.
The practice of using land for the cultivation of tobacco - which happens to be a cash crop, instead of using it for cultivation of useful food crops has come under the scanner of late. With the entire cigarette manufacturing lobby backing it, there is nothing much that can be done in this case - unless the demand for cigarettes comes down.
And that can come down only when we take a note of smoking affects our respiratory system, our health in general and our environment, and stop smoking cigarettes. As difficult as this may seem, it can be accomplished if we understand that we can live without smoking, but not without breathing!