With its billions of cigarette butts and all the plastic used in the composition of e-cigarettes, the tobacco industry is one of the worst polluters in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday.
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In a report published on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day on Tuesday, the UN agency called on the tobacco industry to "really pay for the damage it is creating".
While the effects of tobacco on public health are now well documented - smoking causes the death of more than eight million people worldwide each year - the report focuses on its environmental impact, in the broad sense.
The document looks at the environmental footprint of the sector as a whole, from growing the plants and manufacturing tobacco products, to consumption and waste.
Its conclusions are "quite disastrous", underlines with AFP the director of the WHO for the promotion of health, Rüdiger Krech, accusing the industry of being "one of the biggest polluters that we know".
As for tobacco companies' repeated efforts to clean up their image by cleaning up beaches and funding environmental or humanitarian aid organizations, that's "greenwashing," he says.
"Tobacco doesn't just poison people: it's also poisoning our planet," Krech insisted at a press conference.
The branch is responsible for the loss of 600 million trees each year - or 5% of deforestation worldwide - while tobacco cultivation and production uses 200,000 hectares of land and 22 billion tonnes of water per year. year, while emitting around 84 million tonnes of CO2, according to the report.
"Tobacco products, which are the most commonly thrown away litter on the planet, contain more than 7,000 chemical compounds which, once thrown away, spread into the environment," accuses the WHO official.
One cigarette butt pollutes 100 liters of water
Each of the 4.5 trillion cigarette butts that end up in nature each year can pollute up to 100 liters of water, he points out.
In addition, almost a quarter of tobacco growers suffer from green tobacco sickness, a form of nicotine poisoning through the skin.
A day, the nicotine absorbed while working in a tobacco field is equivalent to 50 cigarettes, explains Mr. Krech, who also points out that the sector employs many children.
According to the report, tobacco is often grown in rather poor countries, where water and cultivated land are often scarce, and where these crops take the place of crucial food production.
Several UN agencies have launched a project to help farmers convert to other crops.
A significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions also comes from the processing and transport of tobacco – the equivalent of one-fifth of the carbon footprint of air travel.
The WHO also warns about tobacco-derived products - cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes - which contribute significantly to the accumulation of plastic pollution in the world.
Cigarette filters contain traces of microplastics, these small fragments found in oceans around the world, including at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest in the world - making it the second largest source of pollution plastic in the world.
Stressing that there is no evidence that these filters protect health - contrary to what the tobacco industry claims - the WHO has urged policy makers around the world to consider banning them.
The UN agency also called on governments to immediately scrap the $500 billion in subsidies given annually to tobacco companies, and to stop charging taxpayers for cleaning up waste.
According to the report, China spends about $2.6 billion annually to treat waste from tobacco products. For India, the bill amounts to 766 million dollars, while Brazil and Germany must pay 200 million dollars each.