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Tobacco industry trashes the planet while it profits and greenwashes

Media release for World Environment Day, 5 June 2022

Bangkok, 4 June 2022 – Tobacco claims 8 million lives globally and trashes the environment in the process. Over 6.25 trillion cigarettes are smoked worldwide every year, including 531 billion sticks in the ASEAN region, most of which are discarded into the environment. This is in addition to the tobacco smoke that contaminates our air with various toxicants, carcinogens, and pollutants, the toxic fertilizers and pesticides that poison our land and water, and the massive cutting of trees to produce cigarettes. The damage tobacco inflicts on the environment is phenomenal.

Nearly all cigarettes have single-use plastic filters, which provide no health benefit but mislead smokers into thinking such filters reduce health harm. When discarded after use, cigarette filters leach toxic chemicals into the land and marine ecosystems and harm marine life and biodiversity. Over one third of cigarette butt litter ends up in the ocean. Every year, 340 to 680 million kilograms of cigarette butt litter are collected, topping the list of most common types of rubbish during coastal cleanups.

In the ASEAN region, it will cost around USD 6.4 billion a year to offset the pollution and waste of more than 531 billion sticks.

The global health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, requires governments to act to protect the environment and the health of persons in relation to tobacco cultivation and manufacture. As a first step, governments should make tobacco companies accountable for the environmental harms that their products cause. 

“Governments can start with an environmental tax on the tobacco industry, but governments have also phased out leaded paint/fuel, asbestos, and chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs) because they are harmful to humans and the environment. Why not phase out tobacco products for the same reasons?” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

The tobacco industry has known for decades the problem of plastic filters in its cigarettes and packaging but has never owned up to the pollution, waste and damage to the environment. Its newer electronic smoking devices add even more waste and exacerbate harm to the environment with discarded plastic, metals, batteries, and chemical residues.

The tobacco industry masks its harms to the environment and health by conducting tokenistic and fake corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. These greenwashing activities may take the form of donations to sustainability initiatives or reporting on self-serving environmental standards.

“Charity and CSR activities sponsored by the tobacco industry are a dangerous distraction to cover up the serious harms tobacco causes to the environment and the health of people. These should be banned, and the industry should be penalized,” said Dr Dorotheo.

There are solutions available to the government.

  • Ban filters in cigarettes as they are useless and made of plastic.
  • Ban electronic smoking devices and phase out traditional tobacco products.
  • Apply an environmental tax (in addition to excise tax) to pay for the environmental costs of tobacco production, consumption, and clean-up of tobacco waste products.
  • Ban tobacco industry sponsorships, including CSR.
  • Set an end date for tobacco sales to protect our future generation.

Contact Information:
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA
Email: val@seatca.org
Mobile: +639173124600

Relevant Links:

  1. World Health Organization: World No Tobacco Day 2022
  2. SEATCA’s World No Tobacco Day 2022 webpage (briefer, video, and art cards)
  3. Tobacco and its environmental impact: An overview (WHO)

About SEATCA
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.