Geneva, 31 May 2022 (TDI): Every year on May 31, the world commemorates World No Tobacco Day. This is to promote awareness of tobacco’s harmful health, social, economic, and environmental consequences.

World No Tobacco Day is an annual event that educates cigarette corporations about their business methods. The day provides an insight into the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against tobacco intake.

It explains how people all across the world can assert their right to health and a healthy lifestyle. “Tobacco: A Threat to Our Environment” is the theme for 2022. Its goal is to draw attention to the entire tobacco cycle’s environmental impact. This includes everything from the growth, processing, and distribution of the product to the harmful waste it produces.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have renewed their relationship. This is in honor of this year’s commemoration. This aims to bring attention to the tobacco industry’s role in the triple global crisis.

The renewed relationship also adds to the topic of “Only One Earth” for World Environment Day in 2022. “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature” is the theme.

WHO raises alarm on tobacco industry environmental impact

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released fresh data on the extent to which tobacco harms both the environment and human health. It is demanding that the industry be held more accountable for its wreaking devastation.

Every year, the tobacco industry claims the lives of more than 8 million people around the world. It requires 600 million trees and 200 thousand hectares of land. It also costs 22 billion metric tons of water and 84 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In addition to this, tobacco is primarily grown in low- and middle-income countries. This is where water and agriculture are frequently in short supply in order to feed the region. Instead, they are being used to cultivate tobacco plants, which are extremely dangerous.

As a result, the land is being stripped of trees at an increasing rate. According to the WHO report “Tobacco: Poisoning our Planet,” the carbon footprint of the tobacco business is equivalent to one-fifth of CO2.

It ranges from manufacturing, processing, and transportation. CO2 is produced annually by the commercial aviation sector, adding to global warming.

According to WHO Director of Health Promotion Dr. Ruediger Krech, tobacco products are the most abused item in the world. There are about 7000 hazardous compounds in them. When they are abandoned, they leak into our surroundings.

Every year, around 4.5 trillion cigarette filters end up in our oceans. Rivers, city streets, parks, dirt, and beaches are also included. Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes all contribute to the accumulation of plastic pollution.

Besides this, cigarette filters contain microplastics. They are the world’s second-largest source of plastic pollution. There is no proof that filters have any demonstrated health benefits. This is despite the publicity of the tobacco industry.

WHO’s call to prevent the tobacco industry’s environmental impact

The WHO is urging policymakers to ban cigarette filters as single-use plastics. They should consider outlawing cigarette filters. This is to safeguard public health and the environment. Taxpayers are responsible for cleaning up littered tobacco products.

They are not blaming the industry for causing the issue. This costs China about $2.6 billion per year. It will also cost India approximately $766 million. Brazil and Germany will have to pay more than $200 million USD.

France and Spain, as well as cities in the United States such as San Francisco, have taken a stand. They have successfully implemented “extended producer responsibility legislation” based on the Polluter Pays Principle.

As a result, the tobacco industry is responsible for cleaning up its own pollution. The WHO encourages countries and localities to follow suit. They must assist tobacco producers in transitioning to more sustainable crops.

There is a need to pass tough tobacco pricing (which may include an environmental tax). They must also provide support services to assist people to quit smoking.

Message from WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti

According to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, one out of every ten African adolescents uses tobacco. This is despite the fact that 24 African countries have made smoking in public places illegal.

Despite the fact that 35 prohibits tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, this is still the case. New items, such as electronic nicotine and tobacco products, are gaining popularity among teenagers. This only adds to their concerns.

WHO has increased its efforts to combat the overall threat. This is due to the necessity to address related environmental damage. This is despite the fact that 44 of the 47 nations in the WHO African Region have accepted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

This commits them to take effective and evidence-based tobacco-control efforts. Tobacco growing has a significant environmental impact. This is a result of its extensive usage of water.

Along with large-scale deforestation and poisoning of our air and water systems, this is a rare resource across most of the continent. Land that is being utilized to cultivate tobacco may be put to better use. This is particularly true in places where food insecurity is a problem.

WHO assistance

WHO has teamed up with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to assist in combating the menace (FAO). It has also partnered with the Kenyan government to launch the Tobacco-Free Farms initiative.

The project, which began in March, assists farms in making the transition from tobacco to alternate food crops. Instead of harming people’s health, this will help feed them. Training and inputs such as seeds and fertilizer are provided by UN agencies and the Kenyan government.

Through the World Food Programme’s local procurement activities, they are also providing a ready market for their harvest. So far, 330 Kenyan farmers have shifted to cultivating beans. They are yielding more than 200 metric tons in the first crop.

More than 1,000 farmers have joined the second season, which has recently begun. This is greatly encouraging for our aspirations to expand the program to other African tobacco-growing countries.

This is the kind of hard evidence that farmers need to change their attitudes. And governments that believe tobacco is a lucrative crop with the potential to boost the economy.

Tobacco, for example, accounts for over half of all exports in Malawi. In comparison, Zimbabwe has a rate of 13%, while Mozambique and Tanzania have rates of 6% and 3%, respectively.

What is less well known is that these are, regrettably, short-term gains. The long-term implications of growing food insecurity outweigh them. They were outdone by farmer debt, farmworker illness and poverty, and widespread environmental degradation.

African tobacco situation

Tobacco-related illness accounts for 3.5 percent of total health spending in Africa. While the global production of tobacco leaves is down, it is increasing in the WHO African Region.

It presently generates around 12% of all tobacco leaves on the planet. The East and Southern sub-regions account for over 90% of the region’s tobacco production. Zimbabwe (26%) is followed by Zambia (16.4%), Tanzania (14.4%), Malawi (13.3%), and Mozambique (13.3%).

Tobacco farming is also a major cause of deforestation. Because of the vast amounts of wood required for curing, this is the case. As a result, deforestation is one of the most significant contributors to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.

It also speeds up the extinction of species, land degradation, and desertification. According to estimates, the need for wood to cure tobacco accounts for 12% of all deforestation in Southern Africa.

Furthermore, tobacco farming poses a number of health dangers to growers. Green tobacco illness, which is caused by nicotine absorbed through the skin while handling wet tobacco leaves, is one of them.

It can also be caused by pesticides and tobacco smoke. Meanwhile, cigarette butts are by far the most common type of litter. According to research, cigarette filters made of cellulose acetate are mostly non-biodegradable.

Cigarette butts clutter streets, parks, and beaches seeping toxic chemicals into rivers. They are poisoning animals, aquatic life, and children.

WHO Regional Director for Africa’s message

On World No Tobacco Day this year, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti called on African governments to impose environmental tax levies on tobacco. Tax levies should be across the value and supply chains. Production, processing, distribution, sales, intake, and waste management are all included.

Dr. Moeti fully commits to WHO’s support to assist farmers to switch to alternative crops. This is for tobacco-growing countries only.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti also urged countries to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). It should be implemented as soon as possible. It offers the necessary direction for the advancement of smoke-free surroundings.

This is for the purpose of developing programs to assist tobacco users in quitting. They also believe that cutting out taxes and other financial measures should be implemented. The reduction of tobacco intake is a critical step.

It will help toward achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. However, as the data from the environment shows, the benefits extend far beyond health.

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