The physical damage to the human body that smoking causes is by now well-known. A far cry from the golden-age of advertising in the mid-20th century, the recent anti-smoking campaigns reach every corner of the nation, from primary schools to the faces of cigarette packets themselves. But humans are not the only thing to be effected; the environment is a living organism too, and suffers a similar fate to us when it’s forced to breathe in toxic cigarette smoke.
There are over 4000 chemicals in second-hand cigarette smoke, at least 172 of which are toxic substances. Many are regulated under clean air laws, including the 3 main constituents of air pollution: carbon monoxide, particulate matter and lead. In comparison to diesel cars, a product that has long been lobbied as seriously harmful to the environment, cigarettes have been found to emit 10 times more particulate matter. Particulate matter is formed of millions of tiny particles, each around 2.5 micrometers in breadth, which have a varied chemical composition and are very good at getting into respiratory systems, causing severe respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Combined with oxygen-eliminating carbon monoxide and organ-debilitating lead, the pollution caused by cigarette smoke is a serious threat to all living bodies who breathe its air.
On top of what comes out of cigarettes, there’s the discarded physical waste. Cigarette butts make up an estimated 25-50% of all collected litter items from roads and streets, and whilst they look like the harmless part, they’re actually a lethal killer in their own right. The butt of a cigarette contains remnants of the tobacco and paper on top of a whole new cache of chemicals, chemicals that the filter in the cigarette traps and holds by design. These include arsenic, acetone, ammonia, benzene, cadmium and formaldehyde. Every time the deceptively small and insignificant cigarette butt is casually dropped onto the floor, the mass of these chemicals in our environment increases, for it takes around 25 years for a whole cigarette butt to decompose.
Adding water to the mix doesn’t help, either. Water intensifies the potency of the chemicals held in the filter and releases them into the environment around it, which often ends up being rivers and seas. 3,216,991 cigarettes or cigarette butts were collected from beaches and inland waterways across the world in 2009. A study conducted in San Diego found that a single cigarette butt can cause an alarming amount of damage. The study soaked one cigarette butt in a litre of water for a day, resulting in a substantially diminished water quality and the death of 50% of the fish in the tank. The world’s waterways are a vital part of our ecosystem, when they are poisoned the structure of the earth’s natural environment is retarded and the planet’s health severely threatened.
The process of manufacturing cigarettes also poses a threat to the stability of the world’s agriculture. The world’s arable land has dropped from 0.37 hectares per person in 1961 to 0.19 in 2014, and every day trees are cut down and entire forests destroyed to make way for more crops. Tobacco has changed the landscape for countries such as Tanzania, where the fertile forestland has been claimed for tobacco plants. As forests and habitats are destroyed, animals are forced to flee – or die, leaving little for the hunters and disrupting the local ecosystem. Deforestation is also a major contributor to climate change, for trees eat up the carbon in the atmosphere and help to maintain the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere.
Cigarettes effect everything they come into contact with, and with their tiny particulate matters and resistant cigarette butts their reach is pretty widespread. The benefit of their electric counterpart – the e-cigarette – when it comes to both environment and health is predominantly it’s lack of trace. E-cigarettes are longer lasting, so require far less packaging and quantitive manufacturing, and they’re design completely eliminates carbon monoxide, particulate matter and lead in its second-hand smoke. It’s important to remember that smoking isn’t just about the smoker’s health, but it has wider, ethical implications concerning our environment, too.