As of 31st May 2022, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised concern over the impact of the Tobacco Industry on the environment and human health. Annually, “the tobacco industry costs the world more than 8 million human lives, 600 million trees, 200 000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water, and 84 million tonnes of CO2 (WHO Raises Alarm on Tobacco Industry Environmental Impact, 2022).” They have raised an alarm calling out for the industry to become more environmentally conscious. In this light, it makes it necessary to bring attention to this industry and the issues emanating from the operation of the industry.
Environmental impacts of the tobacco industry
Most of the tobacco units are set up in developing countries and the industry is highly carbon-intensive. Many forest areas are cut down to provide space for tobacco harvesting which inevitably impacts the environment. Approximately, 200,000 hectares of land are cleared for tobacco agriculture which is equivalent to almost half the entire land area of Cabo Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.
Most of these tobacco plants are deadly in the sense that it harms the domestic indigenous biodiversity of a region. Secondly, the entire industry, both production, and consumption of tobacco emit large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere amounting to 80 million tonnes per year.
Thirdly, tobacco agriculture is also highly dependent on water. According to the WHO, a single cigarette consumes close to 3.7 liters of water during its entire life cycle from growing to disposal after usage (Tobacco: Poisoning Our Planet, 2022). Roughly, every year 22 billion tonnes of water are used globally for the production of tobacco. Sadly, as mentioned earlier, since most of these tobacco units are set up in developing countries, it is these countries that are the most vulnerable. With the global targets of climate change, these countries are under the burden of meeting the climate targets with limited resources and maximum vulnerability.
Tobacco’s negative externalities
Tobacco as an industry has several environmental hazards that can also affect human health. At the outset, tobacco whether it is smoked or smokeless can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, hypertension and other allied health issues. But, the larger issue with tobacco is that it also affects passive smokers who may constitute a good number of the population. These are also called negative consumption externalities in economics. These externalities arise when the consumption of good results in the social cost outweighing the private benefit. Consumption of a cigarette causes damage to the environment and also to passive smokers, which collectively constitute the societal impact. These social costs outweigh the benefits procured from the industry in terms of economic profits. Tobacco may generate good income for private parties, but in the long run, it will completely destroy the environment and the society within it.
However, despite their negative impact on the environment and human health, tobacco companies engage in greenwashing tactics to put out to the world they are eco-friendly.
Tobacco companies engage in greenwashing tactics to cover up the detrimental effects of tobacco on the environment and human health by the usage of words like “organic” and “natural” in advertisements which misleads smokers and the general public that these are relatively harmless. ‘Greenwashing’ in simple words refers to the advertising strategy adopted by industries and organizations and companies to better market their goods as environmentally friendly, by diverting the public’s attention from their environmentally damaging acts.
These tobacco companies often as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund schools, health systems, environmental and disaster relief organizations, and clean-up programs for tobacco product waste. The irony is, that it is these very tobacco companies that are one of the root causes for issues faced in these institutions and other environmental concerns arising from it. They are part of both the problem and the solution which inevitably nullifies the efforts taken toward resolving the issue.
In this backdrop, it is an alarm raised by the WHO towards targeting this tobacco industry in the larger public interest and for the world to hasten the process of climate mitigation by cutting down on carbon footprints, concerning water, and overall building a more sustainable world for the future.
Leppan, W., Lecours, N., & Buckles, D. (n.d.). Greenwashing – TobaccoTactics. Tobacco Tactics. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://tobaccotactics.org/wiki/greenwashing/
Negative Externalities – Overview, Types, and Remedies. (n.d.). Corporate Finance Institute. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/economics/negative-externalities/
Tobacco: poisoning our planet. (2022, May 30). WHO | World Health Organization. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240051287 WHO raises alarm on tobacco industry environmental impact. (2022, May 30). WHO | World Health Organization. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/31-05-2022-who-raises-alarm-on-tobacco-industry-environmental-impact