The environmental impact of tobacco: a concern that demands multisectoral action

Governments across the globe, the health community and civil society are very aware about the health impacts of tobacco use. However, very little attention has been given to the harmful impact of tobacco on the environment in terms of pollution of waters, deforestation, climate change, and the waste it produces.

Tobacco farming is a complicated process involving heavy use of pesticides, growth regulators, and chemical fertilizers. These can create environmental health problems, particularly in low and middle-income countries with lax regulatory standards.

According to a study from Tobacco control BM, tobacco farming may be associated with destruction of ground water resources, sedimentation of rivers, reservoirs and irrigation systems, climate change and species extinction due to habitat fragmentation and over exploitation.

In a recent report, the WHO indicated that no matter how much more efficient the tobacco industry becomes, and how much better it is regulated, the tobacco industry will never be environmentally benign. The same report also pointed out that tobacco control intersects with other pressing global issues such as those addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals, the Rio+20 environmental commitments, climate change science, new global trade agreements and environmental justice.

‘’The alarming rise in tobacco consumption and related deaths has turned the battle for tobacco control from one focused primarily on educating a skeptical public about tobacco’s health threat to one involving public engagement on much broader fronts – including on the subject of this overview: the severe and noxious effects of tobacco on the environment’’

Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat

All phases of cigarette production, from leaf cultivation through cigarette manufacture to transportation, contribute to greenhouse gas emission responsible for global climate change. Therefore, there is an urgent need for comprehensive estimates of carbon produced through the tobacco life-cycle.

Under Article 18 of the treaty, Parties “agree to have due regard to the protection of the environment and the health of persons in relation to the environment in respect of tobacco cultivation and manufacture within their respective territories”. This aims to address the devastating environmental impacts related to tobacco production.

The WHO FCTC Policy Options and Recommendations for Articles 17 and 18 provide Parties with a working framework with which they may adopt comprehensive policies and effective measures to implement these articles and re-emphasize the need to confront the vested interests of tobacco companies. These companies have promoted policies that avoid all environmental responsibility of the producer, and they attempt to divert public attention away from the environmental damage they produce through social corporate responsibility activities.

The implementation of these Articles will impact positively on a number of Sustainable Development Goals as well as on and Climate change policies.

A multisectoral approach both at national and at international level is essential to put in place coherent policies. The Convention Secretariat is promoting the collaboration between different UN agencies such as , FAO, ILO, UNDP, UNEP, UNICEF and WHO and others, to come up with a global strategy.

A forum to discuss the environmental impact of tobacco manufacturing will take place next year in the Pacific Islands to generate more information, raise awareness and promote inputs from other sectors linked to environmental initiatives.

Follow to that major event, in October 2018, COP8 could raise awareness about the problem, analyze the evidences, promote close collaboration between the community of the climate change and environment arena together with the health community and promote discussions about next steps.