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WATCH: Cigarette butts wreak havoc on sea birds and fish

The WHO said that over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are incorrectly disposed of into the environment every year. Picture: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash

The WHO said that over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are incorrectly disposed of into the environment every year. Picture: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash

Published May 27, 2022

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The emphasis of this year’s World No Tobacco Day commemorated annually on May 31, is how tobacco, in addition to being a health risk, also harms the environment and is a massive contributor to climate change.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are incorrectly disposed of into the environment every year. These butts, or filters, contain cellulose single-use plastics and are not biodegradable.

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Due to the sheer mass of butts being disposed of incorrectly, thousands of sea birds and millions of fish are killed each year after these butts find their way into our oceans. Along with these cigarette butts, around 300 billion mostly recyclable, empty cigarette boxes are dumped each year.

The cigarette manufacturing industry swallows up around 22 billion litres of water annually, not including the water needed for the forests which supply the industry with over 600 million trees each year.

The WHO estimates that 84 million tons of carbon dioxide caused by tobacco, is released into the air every year, raising global temperatures. That’s more than the emissions of some small to medium countries.

The World Bank noted that there is a shortage of arable land with growing food shortages in developing countries with nine out of ten tobacco-growing countries being developing countries.

Four of those are in a debt crisis. Land used for growing a killer product like tobacco can be used to grow food. Alternative crops are also more viable and profitable.

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Tobacco, Alcohol and Gambling Advisory, Advocacy and Action Group (TAG) implored in a media statement that “greenwashing tactics must be ignored”.

TAG said that “the tobacco industry employs greenwashing tactics to minimise the appearance of the harm that it causes.”

“The cellulose butts (single-use plastics), promoted by the industry as ‘filters’, have no health benefits. The economic benefits accrue to the cigarette manufacturers, because there is less tobacco in a cigarette with these damaging so-called ‘filters’,” TAG added.

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Another way the industry greenwashes the issue is its promotion of the use of pocket ashtrays “suggesting that this stops butts from being thrown away in parks, streets, sidewalks and on beaches”.

“In fact, these personal ashtrays simply increase consumption, which of course benefits the industry but seriously increases the harm to smokers and trash in the environment.”

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“The tobacco industry tries to evade responsibility by providing false solutions like small programmes of planting trees and providing better weather forecasts for tobacco farmers. Do not believe the hype and tripe of the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry is uniquely dangerous,” TAG said.

TAG estimated that over 44 000 South Africans die as a result of tobacco-related diseases every year with the harm being done by tobacco products currently costing South African taxpayers R59bn every year.

Since the introduction of tobacco control measures, national smoking prevalence has declined in South Africa. But, despite a national downward trend in smoking levels, tobacco use remains high in certain vulnerable communities.

TAG wants the South African government to take whatever action is needed to protect our human rights and slow down the tobacco epidemic of harm to people, health and the environment by making sure that the Tobacco Bill is promulgated quickly.

SMOKING is a harmful habit. lMYRIAMS-FOTOS/Pixabay

The following things can be done and achieved now. We do not need the current bill to reach these goals.

◉ Ban tobacco displays.

◉ Ban all indoor smoking.

◉ Control and limit all outdoor smoking.

◉ Ban tobacco vending machines.

◉ Introduce plain packaging with large graphic health warnings and messages.

◉ Ban all flavourings in tobacco products, especially menthol, as an additive to all cigarettes.

Other suggestions include imposing a special tax on the industry for the litter it causes and the cessation of smoking in all public places, both indoors and outdoor as a clear human rights matter.

Civil society must promote the rapid introduction of the Smoke-Free Generation programme as is happening in many countries.

TAG urges all smokers not to smoke on World No Tobacco Day on May 31. Just for one day. Then repeat that action on the next day and every day thereafter.

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