08 July 2008

why smoking stinks

[First I'd like to say to my auntie, if this post upsets you, sorry! I'm only thinking of your health and well being -- that's all.]

(Image: Chris Jordan. Cigarette butts, 2005. 5 x 10 feet)

Ok, now let's get down to it.

Aside from the obvious: cancer, emphysema, COPD, brittle bones, yellow teeth, yellow nails, stinky breath, smelly hair, and stinky everything-one-owns, there's the health of the world to consider.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world. What? That shocked even me. (More alarming facts about tobacco from WHO here.) What other evil do cigarettes impose on the planet?

Tobacco poisons land and waterways.
Large amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are used in the farming of tobacco. In the US, one estimate puts yearly use of pesticide on tobacco in the US at over 25 million pounds. Some of these toxic pesticides are linked to birth defects, cancer, and/or nerve damage.[1] Naturally, what's put into the soil soon runs off into waterways, poisoning lakes, streams, and eventually the ocean.

Today, like many other industries, tobacco production is moving out of the US to developing nations. These countries don't have the same environmental regulations as the US, so the ecological toll could be greater.

Tobacco production contributes to deforestation.
Trees are cut down to build tobacco curing barns and to fuel the curing process.[2] There's also the paper the tobacco is rolled in to consider. It's estimated that one tree is sacrificed for every 300 cigarettes (~10.5 packs) produced. [3] We all know by now that deforestation is a major contributor to climate change.

Tobacco crops also eat into land that would be viable for farming food.

Unextinguished cigarettes cause forest fires.

And the butt...
The most littered trash in America (and some say the planet) are cigarette butts. While estimates vary on how long it takes for them to break down (from 10 months to 12 years), the plastic toxins in the butts never go away. They find there way into waterways and can adversely affect (read: kill) aquatic micro-organisms at the bottom of the food chain. And if we remember anything from grade school science class, what happens to the creatures at the bottom of the food chain affects us all.

So how can you or someone you care about quit smoking?
I know people who've quit cold turkey, using the patch, taking Chantix, or reading a book (like this one by Allen Carr, which gets a ton of good reviews). There are several online resources to help kick the habit. Here are a few:
In New York City, dial 311 to get free nicotine patches.


1. US Geological Survey, Pesticide National Synthesis Project. National Totals by Crop and Compound. March 1998. In: Pesticide Action Network.
2. Geist, HJ. Global assessment of deforestation related to tobacco farming. Tobacco Control. 1999;8:18-28.
3. Muller, M. Tobacco in the Third World: Tommorrow's Epidemic? London: War on Want, 1976.

Additional sources:

afternoon eco news