In many tobacco growing countries, evidence indicates irreparable environmental damage from tobacco agriculture, particularly when associated with the deforestation necessary to increase farmland for tobacco growth and cure tobacco plants. The June 1995 Bellagio statement on tobacco and sustainable development concluded that, in the developing world, "tobacco poses a major challenge, not just to health, but also to environmental sustainability".
In many developing countries, wood is used to cure tobacco leaves and to construct curing barns. An estimated 200,000 hectares of forests and woodlands are cut down each year because of tobacco farming. In Southern Africa alone, an estimated 140,000 hectares of woodlands disappear annually into the fires necessary to cure tobacco, accounting for approximately 12% of deforestation in the region. A 1999 study assessing the amount of forest and woodland consumed annually for curing tobacco concluded that nearly 5% of deforestation in developing countries where tobacco was grown was due to tobacco cultivation.
Environmental degradation also results from the tobacco plant leaching nutrients from the soil, as well as pollution from pesticides and fertilizers. Indeed, large and frequent applications of pesticides are required to protect the plant from insects and disease. This not only causes severe health problems to the farmers, as they are not properly equipped and trained to use these chemicals, but it also decreases the long term fertility of the soil and pollutes the groundwater and waterways often used by populations downstream.
The manufacturing of tobacco products also produces an immense amount of waste. In 1995, the global tobacco industry produced an estimated 2.3 billion kilograms of manufacturing waste and 209 million kilograms of chemical waste. This does not include the enormous amount of litter caused by cigarette butts, which are not bio-degradable. According to one estimate, 954 million kilograms worth of filters were produced in 1998, with many of them eventually littering countries' streets, waterways and parklands. Compounding the extent of this problem is the waste created by cigarette packaging, lighters, matches and other polluting by-products of tobacco use.