Cigarettes And The Environment: An Ugly Combination

cigarettes and the environment
Credit: Sera Cocora, Pexels

Choosing to smoke cigarettes results in a score of unpleasant side effects such as increased chances of developing upper respiratory infections, COPD and lung cancer. While many smokers do attempt to quit due to their knowledge of the potential health risks, few people truly consider the impact cigarettes have on the planet.

Cigarettes pose significant risks to the air, the earth and the water supply. They release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, and most contain filters that won’t biodegrade for decades. Those concerned about saving the environment can keep the threat to the planet in mind as an additional motivating factor to help them kick the butts!

Cigarettes and the Air

Cigarettes release particulates into the air just as car exhaust does. One sobering research study suggests that cigarette smoke emits toxins at rates 10 times higher than that of diesel emissions. Cigarettes contain known carcinogens such as formaldehyde and benzene. Additionally, the smoke contains toxins such as ammonia, carbon dioxide and cyanide. These toxins do irreversible damage to physical health, and also to appearance. In fact, one study found that smokers can lose anywhere from one to three teeth every 10 years. Can you imagine losing your teeth?

Research also reveals many cigarettes contain radioactive elements which may influence why many smokers stand a higher risk of developing other forms of cancer outside of the lungs. These radioactive emissions may impact the genetic code of non-human animals exposed to secondhand smoke. Just as human babies born to mothers who smoke run higher risks of suffering birth defects, newborn animals exposed to smoke may face extinction due to changes in their DNA.

Even smokers who switch to e-cigarettes harm the air everyone needs to breathe. Even though these devices cut down on the amount of sticky tar that turns smokers’ teeth yellow, they nevertheless release toxic chemicals into the air.

Cigarettes and Our Water

For the past 32 years, the number one type of waste collected by those in beach cleanup crews was cigarette butts. Cigarettes make up a larger percentage of ocean pollution than plastic straws, wrappers and bottles. Even when smokers dispose of cigarettes by flushing them down toilets, storm drains carry them to the sea.

The materials in cigarette filters prove deadly to many aquatic animals. Animals such as fish and turtles mistake the butts for food, resulting in build-up that blocks the digestive tract leading to painful death by starvation even as they consume more. Because the plastics used in cigarette filters take a full decade or more to biodegrade, even if every smoker kicked the habit today, the unnecessary deaths will continue for years to come.

The Problem of Cigarette Waste

The production of cigarettes requires the chopping of billions of trees on an annual basis. Many of these trees come from the rainforest, where deforestation for other purposes has already eradicated irreplaceable plant and animal species. Ironically, the cure for many diseases associated with smoking already may have burned to plant tobacco, never to return.

Furthermore, the production process cigarettes undergo also release toxins into the air and soil. Soil degradation due to industrial pollution renders otherwise arable land unfit for planting crops. Given that approximately one in every seven human beings struggle to get enough to eat, destroying land that could raise corn or soybeans squanders limited resources and contributes to world hunger.

Finding Help Quitting

Cigarettes create both physical and mental addiction, meaning simply going cold turkey causes unpleasant side effects that revert many to their prior ways. The average smoker attempts to quit 30 times before finally kicking the habit for good.

Fortunately, ample free resources exist to help smokers banish the butts. In the U.S., the government devotes resources to phone and text support lines that help smokers stay the course when the temptation to return to the habit grows too much to handle. Online support groups and social media networks offer additional ways for those trying to quit to get the help they need.

Those with a serious physical addiction to nicotine benefit from patches that gradually reduce the amount of the toxin in their blood, easing side effects. Certain antidepressants such as Chantix help those wishing to quit overcome the psychological need for tobacco. Other smoking cessation aids include chewing on toothpicks to overcome the need to have something in the mouth and replacing smoke breaks with non-toxic water cooler gossip sessions also help.

Quitting Saves Human and Environmental Health

Those struggling to kick the cigarette habit can take comfort in the fact that their efforts will have a positive environmental impact. Some may find additional motivation to quit from knowing how their habit harms far more than their own health. By educating consumers about the consequences smoking has on the planet, our society finally can break free from tobacco addiction.