WHO publishes report on the health and environmental impacts of tobacco

07 June 2022

Article: 56/2210

On 31 May 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report highlighting the extent tobacco damages both the environment and human health, while calling for the tobacco industry to be held more accountable for the destruction tobacco causes.

Every year, the tobacco industry costs the world more than 8,000,000 human lives, 600,000,000 trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 84,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). The majority of tobacco is grown in low-and-middle-income countries, where water and farmland are often needed to produce food for the region, however, they are being used to grow tobacco plants, while more and more land is being cleared of forests.

The WHO report highlights that the industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing and transporting tobacco is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing to global warming.

The report finds that products such as cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes also add to the build-up of plastic pollution, with cigarette filters containing microplastics which make up the second-highest form of plastic pollution worldwide. Despite tobacco industry marketing, there is no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits, and the WHO is calling on policymakers to treat cigarette filters as single-use plastics and to consider banning them in order to protect public health and the environment.

The report also states that the cost of cleaning up littered tobacco products falls on taxpayers, rather than the tobacco industry, with a yearly cost to China of around US$2.6 billion, and to India of around US$766 million. The cost for Brazil and Germany comes in at over US$200 million.

The WHO urges other countries and cities to follow the example of France, Spain and San Francisco, California in adopting the polluter pays principle, in making the tobacco industry responsible for clearing the pollution that they create. The WHO further urges countries to give support to tobacco farmers, enabling a switch to sustainable crops, as well as implementing strong tobacco taxes and offering support services to help people stop using tobacco products.

Source: WHO, 31 May 2022