The UN agency called for the tobacco industry to compensate for its products that contribute to greenhouse gases blamed for climate change, but gave no estimate of damage.
The ecological footprint goes far beyond the effects of cigarette smoke, the WHO said in its first report on tobacco's impact on the environment. “From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process.”
“We’ve not estimated the full economic impact of what’s happening to the environment, that will require more studies,” Vinayak Prasad, WHO tobacco control co-ordinator, told a news briefing.
Tobacco use kills 7 million people a year, according to the WHO, which marks World No Tobacco Day today. It drew up a landmark treaty in 2005, now ratified by 179 countries, that calls for a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and taxes to discourage use.
Tobacco plants require large quantities of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fumigants to control pest or disease outbreaks.
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“Many of these chemicals are so harmful to both the environment and farmers’ health that they are banned in some countries,” the report said.
Vast quantities of wood are burnt to cure tobacco leaves, contributing to deforestation. Some big growers like China and Zimbabwe are also using coal, which emits carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, the WHO said.
Millions of kilograms of non-biodegradable cigarette butts are discarded every year. Tobacco waste contains more than 7000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens, it added.
Japan Tobacco, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco report on their use of environmental resources and waste streams, but the self-reported data is “limited and opaque”, the report noted.