THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries to step up policies to make the tobacco industry more accountable for the destruction it is causing.
The WHO in a statement to commemorate World No Tobacco Day, said new information gathered had revealed the extent to which tobacco damages both human health and the environment.
World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is observed around the world annually on May 31, to inform the public on the dangers of using tobacco.
The 2022 WNTD is on the theme: “Protect the Environment”.
It said every year the tobacco industry costs the world more than eight million human lives, 600 million trees, 200 000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 84 million tonnes of CO2.
“The majority of tobacco is grown in low-and-middle-income countries, where water and farmland are often desperately needed to produce food for the region.
Instead, they are being used to grow deadly tobacco plants, while more and more land is being cleared of forests,” it added.
The WHO report “Tobacco: Poisoning our planet” highlighted that the industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing and transporting tobacco was equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing to global warming.
“Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded.
Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute the oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.
It said products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes also add to the build-up of plastic pollution. Cigarette filters contain microplastics and make up the second-highest form of plastic pollution worldwide.
Despite tobacco industry marketing, there was no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits.
WHO calls on policy-makers to treat cigarette filters, as what they are, single use plastics, and consider banning cigarette filters to protect public health and the environment.
It said the costs of cleaning up littered tobacco products fell on taxpayers, rather than the industry creating the problem.
Each year, this costs China roughly US$ 2.6 billion and India roughly US$ 766 million. The cost for Brazil and Germany comes in at over US$ 200 million, it added.
It stated that countries like France and Spain and cities like San Francisco, California in the USA, have taken a stand.
Following the Polluter Pays Principle, they have successfully implemented “extended producer responsibility legislation” which makes the tobacco industry responsible for clearing up the pollution it creates.
It urged countries and cities to follow the example, as well as give support to tobacco farmers to switch to sustainable crops, implement strong tobacco taxes and offer support services to help people quit tobacco.