Stop smoking to protect our world

Did you know that your cigarettes are costing the earth? Here Claire Atherton finds some compelling reasons to stub them out for good.

Did you know that your cigarettes are costing the earth? Here Claire Atherton finds some compelling reasons to stub them out for good.

SMOKING in public places is now banned throughout the UK and Northern Ireland.

And many of us are turning to pharmacists for advice on how to give up.

That’s great – if you’re a smoker, giving up is the best thing you can do for your health. But by quitting, you’ll also be cutting down on the harmful effects that tobacco production has on the environment.

Its toll is devastating and includes deforestation, pollution from heavy pesticide and fertiliser use, and soil depletion.

Plus there’s the impact it has on the health of tobacco workers – and, with nearly three-quarters of the world’s tobacco grown in developing countries, it’s the poor who are hit hardest.


Despite the awareness of the impact of smoking, the tobacco industry is in pretty rude health.

The Tobacco Atlas* says global production has doubled since the 1960s and tobacco is now grown in more than 120 countries.

There’s been a shift in where it’s grown, too: production has trebled in developing nations but fallen by half in the developed world. Experts predict that by 2010 over 85% of tobacco will be grown in developing countries.

Economic benefits come at a price, and it’s paid for by the environment. Tobacco depletes soil of nutrients and susceptibility to disease makes it a candidate for intensive pesticide use, like aldicarb, a nerve poison classed by the World Health Organisation as ‘extremely hazardous’, and chlorpyrifos which contaminates air, rivers and lakes.

These harsh chemicals take their toll on those who handle them. A study of tobacco workers in Brazil, published by Christian Aid in 2002, raised concerns over the effect of pesticides on health: “Some farmers appear to suffer from exposure to the pesticides, especially to organophosphates, used in tobacco cultivation.”

Even the tobacco plant itself can be harmful. Green Tobacco Sickness occurs when nicotine is absorbed through the skin via contact with wet tobacco leaves.


After the tobacco is harvested it is cured (dried) by passing heated air through the leaves. In developing countries this process involves cutting down trees to burn, which causes deforestation.

Worldwide, it’s estimated one in eight trees felled is for tobacco production and for every 300 cigarettes produced, one tree is cut down for curing. This results in an estimated loss of 200,000 hectares of forest worldwide.

In one region of Malawi, nearly 80% of the trees cut down are for curing tobacco. Clearing forests can result in soil erosion, which in turn can lead to the flooding of agricultural land. The tobacco industry is not planting enough trees to replace those it uses.

The bi-product of the industry is, of course, waste. In 1995, it churned out 2.3bn kilograms of manufacturing waste and 209m kilograms of chemical waste.

And it appears the butt stops with the consumer. In a 2002 study by Keep Britain Tidy, cigarette-related litter was found in 77% of all UK locations. The 2003 international Coastal Clean Up Day said it made up 30% of rubbish on beaches and in rivers.


That was the bad news. The good news is that you can do your bit – by giving up cigarettes.

Not only will you be doing the environment a favour, but you’ll find long-term health benefits.

Becoming a non-smoker will reduce your risk of suffering from cancer, heart disease, breathing diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis, and fertility problems. And people around you will stop breathing in secondhand smoke.

.Just 20 minutes after having your last cigarette, your blood pressure returns to normal. After 24 hours, all carbon monoxide is eliminated from your body and, after 48 hours, there’s no nicotine left in your system. Soon, your lung capacity improves, and after a few weeks, your skin brightens.

In time your risk of contracting a serious illness, like lung cancer and heart disease, substantially dsops. And 15 years on, your risk of heart attack is the same as that of a lifelong non-smoker. You’ll save money (£1,800 a year for a 20-a-day smoker); your clothes, breath and hair will smell fresher, and food and drink taste better.

There are 11m ex-smokers in the UK. But if quitting was easy, there’d be far more. Surveys show while 70% of smokers want to stop, the rate of success is low.

This may be due to nicotine’s addictive power – withdrawal symptoms include cravings, head -aches, nausea, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and restlessness.

* The Tobacco Atlas (Dr Judith Mackay, Dr Michael Eriksen, Dr Omar Shafey, published by the American Cancer Society, 2006).

This article appears in the latest edition of The Co-operative Membership magazine. Visit


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