A Trail of Harm: A Story of a Cigarettes and Pollution, From Tobacco Growth to Disposal (Part 1)
That cigarette smoking is bad for your health is already a well-established fact. You probably also know that smoking is also bad for the health of the people immediately around you while you smoke. But did you know that smoking is also harmful to the health of something infinitely more important? Smoking is also bad for the health of our very own Mother Earth.
The first thing that probably crept into your mind just now was probably smoking’s most obvious contribution to environmental pollution – smoking is a cause for air pollution. But the dangers that cigarettes pose to the environment go way further than that. They start from the growing of tobacco and go all the way until even after you have thrown away the cigarette butt. Let’s follow the trail of harm that cigarettes leave from their start at a humble tobacco farm until they have been used and thrown away.
The life of a cigarette begins at a lowly tobacco farm – usually in a third world country where it can be cheaply grown as a cash crop. Here the farmers are faced with a problem; tobacco is a very fragile plant, it has many natural enemies, and it is easily affected by many diseases that can lower its quality (Big Tobacco only accepts leaves that look absolutely perfect and any sign of disease is a big no-no). So the farmers decide to protect their tobacco plants by spraying them with pesticides and herbicides. This is where cigarettes first spread their mark as a major contributor to environmental pollution, because these pesticides and herbicides easily make their way into the groundwater, threatening both animal and human life. In fact, Aldicarb, a chemical that is highly toxic to both humans and animals was detected in the groundwater of at least 27 U.S. states – a disturbing fact no matter what the circumstances.
The tobacco plants continue to grow, and when their leaves have reached maturity they are transported in large fossil fuel-burning trucks to processing plants. Their transport is already an environmental problem on its own, but at the processing plants, insult is an ingredient often added to injury. Here dozens of harmful chemicals are used in the manufacture of cigarettes. Many of these chemicals are released into the environment, eventually contaminating land, water, and air. Some of these chemicals include nitric acid, phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, ammonia, ethylene glycol, nicotine and nicotine salts, hydrogen fluoride, methyl ethyl ketone, and toluene – dangerous chemicals all.
After the cigarettes have been rolled, glued, packed, and sealed, the wheels get rolling to put the cigarettes into your hands. Because of the disposable nature of cigarettes, ships sail across the oceans, airplanes travel the skies, and millions of trucks collectively drive billions of miles every day, every week, every year ferrying cigarettes from factory to warehouse to other warehouses to ports to distribution centers to even more warehouses to dealers and then to retailers here cowboys, camels, and scantily clad vixens become you, “Come! Become part of the problem!”
You then purchase a cigarette or a pack of cigarettes, and because you paid for them, you have practically also paid off the entire industry that brings them to you to harm the environment by spraying dangerous pesticides and herbicides on their plants for you, processing tobacco and manufacturing them using all sorts of toxic chemicals for you, and orchestrating a massive feat of logistics using millions of polluting vehicles for you! And suddenly, simply by buying yourself a smoke, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve joined a crusade to harm the environment, and both directly and consequently, yourself.
End of story? Not quite yet.
Continue on to our next post to read the rest of the story and find out how to avoid becoming part of the problem.