Tobacco Farming and Deforestation
The production of cigarettes also poses a threat to a sustainable future, particularly through catastrophic deforestation. It is estimated that 2–4% of global deforestation is attributed to tobacco production. When tobacco is being produced, land cleared to make room for tobacco crops and even more trees are clear-cut in order to dry and cure the tobacco leaves. In total, it is estimated that 600 million trees are cleared and burned annually, mostly in underdeveloped nations where tobacco is primarily produced. This is a tragic loss of valuable ecosystems and animal habitats, as trees are vital in the absorption of carbon dioxide to produce clean air, safe for humans. In fact, the annual loss in trees due to tobacco production is the equivalent to burning approximately 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline — this is a major obstacle in producing a sustainable future, with clean and safe air quality.
300 Cigarettes = One Tree
Farming also uses a surprisingly large amount of wood, rendering tobacco a driver of deforestation, one of the leading causes of climate change.
About 11.4 million metric tonnes of wood are utilized annually for curing: the drying of the tobacco leaf, which is achieved through various methods, including wood fires. That's the equivalent of one tree for every 300 cigarettes, or 1.5 cartons.
This adds to the impact of plantations on forest land, which the study describes as a significant cause for concern, citing "evidence of substantial, and largely irreversible, losses of trees and other plant species cause by tobacco farming."
Tobacco and Threats to Wildlife
Deforestation is the largest human-driven cause of specific ecosystem destruction.
When forests get cleared to make room for tobacco plants, all creatures have to evacuate the habitat they call home. All nests or burrows get destroyed and wildlife have to abandon their habitats. This leads to decreased biodiversity of the ecosystem, as well as the potential for species to become endangered or extinct.
Cigarette pollution in the environment also affects the lives of animals. When Cigarette butts and packaging end up in the environment, animals are at risk of consuming them. When this pollution gets consumed, its chemicals enter the animal’s bloodstream.
The chemicals act as a poison and could end up killing them. Additionally, this debris cannot be digested by animals. When consumed, the debris gets trapped in the animal’s stomach. This impacts the way the animal eats and can lead to the inability to absorb nutrients.
Tobacco and Water Ecosystems
Animals of the waterways take the brunt of the impact when it comes to water pollution from cigarette butts. Toxins such as nicotine, pesticides, and metals seep into the ecosystem. The water then becomes toxic to fish and other organisms in that aquatic ecosystem.
The chemicals from a single cigarette butt release enough toxins to kill 50 percent of fish exposed to it for 96 hours. This study was done with one cigarette in one liter of water for 24 hours.
To get an idea of what that means on a larger scale, there are hundreds of thousands of cigarette butts in the ocean. This pollution soaks for years and releases harmful toxins into the water. When aquatic animals come in contact with the contaminated water, it could kill them. This contaminated water can also destroy coral reefs and other smaller aquatic water-life. Chemicals are not the only way cigarettes impact aquatic animals.
Cigarette butts look like insects, and small fish will consume them because they cannot tell the difference. These butts stay in the animal’s stomach, limiting their stomach capacity and changing their eating habits.