The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the theme of its global campaign for World No Tobacco Day 2022 is “Poisoning Our Planet #Tobacco Exposed”. The campaign aims to raise public awareness of the environmental impact of tobacco cultivation, production, distribution and waste. This will give tobacco users an additional reason to quit. The campaign will also expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to “green-wash” its reputation and products by promoting itself as environmentally friendly.
The harmful impact of the tobacco industry on the environment is vast and growing adding unnecessary pressure to our planet’s already scarce resources and fragile ecosystems. Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year and destroys our environment, further harming human health, through the cultivation, production, distribution, consumption, and post-consumer waste.
The tobacco industry’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are equivalent to 84 million tons of carbon dioxide, which exacerbates climate change, reduces climate resilience, wastes resources and destroys ecosystems. Besides, approximately 3.5 million hectares of land are destroyed each year by tobacco cultivation. Tobacco cultivation leads to deforestation, especially in developing countries. Deforestation for tobacco cultivation contributes to soil degradation and reduces the ability of the land to support the growth of other crops or vegetation.
With about 90% of tobacco production concentrated in developing countries, the impact of tobacco on different socioeconomic groups is highly uneven. In low- and middle-income countries, many farmers and government officials view tobacco as a cash crop that can generate economic growth, but the short-term cash benefits of the crop are completely offset by the long-term consequences of increased food insecurity, often persistent indebtedness of farmers, disease and poverty, and widespread environmental damage in low- and middle-income countries.
The tobacco industry also invests heavily in “green-washing” its environmentally damaging practices, including reporting environmental impacts and funding corporate social responsibility programs and organizations in the environmental field. Their smokescreen does work due to a lack of objective data and limited and inconsistent legislation at the international and local levels.
It is of great need to identify tobacco consumption reduction as a key lever for achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore the World No Tobacco Day campaign calls on governments and policymakers to step up legislation, including implementing and strengthening existing programs to hold producers accountable for the environmental and economic costs of tobacco product waste.