The Tobacco Industry’s Impact On Sustainability

Scott Benowitz offers a green perspective on quitting smoking.

The Tobacco Industry’s Impact On Sustainability

I discussed the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the FCTC 2030 project.  In this article, I will discuss the global tobacco industry’s impact on sustainability in the 21st and the 22nd centuries.

Analyzing the health risks of smoking is nothing new; as I mentioned in the previous article that I wrote in which I discussed The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, there have been many tens of thousands- probably hundreds of thousands of articles written in various publications throughout the world since the 1950’s about the dangers of smoking.  Most of those articles focus primarily on how smoking damages the health of smokers and the dangers that second hand smoke pose to people who don’t smoke themselves but are standing within close proximity to people who smoke.  A smaller percentage of those articles look at smoking from an environmental perspective. Most articles which look at smoking from an environmental perspective usually focus on the chemicals which are produced (and thus released into the air) when people smoke.  

In 2015 the United Nations established the Sustainable Development Goals Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in 2017, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development began the FCTC 2030 project.  The FCTC 2030 Project updates the terms of the original FCTC from 2003.  The FCTC 2030 Project does not add any new terms to the original convention, but rather the updated document expands on the terms of the 2003 convention.  When representatives from various countries wrote the FCTC 2030 Project in 2017, they’d analyzed which aspects of the 2003 FCTC have been effective, and they wrote more specific goals of this convention which are intended to continue to reduce tobacco consumption throughout the world in the 2030’s.  

The FCTC 2030 project is the first major project which looks at tobacco use from the perspective of its effects on the global “food vs. fuel” debate in the 21st century.  This is a newer viewpoint on tobacco use.  It is perhaps not immediately obvious that smoking directly effects the global “food vs. fuel” debate, because tobacco is neither a food nor a fuel.  However, millions of acres of land are devoted towards cultivating various strains of tobacco throughout the world, and people are now questioning whether in the 21st century we can still afford to have millions of acres of land devoted to growing a crop which produces neither food nor fuel, but produces addictive products which are linked to numerous diseases.

 With recent advances in healthcare, advances in medical technologies, and improved access to clean water throughout the developing world, people are living longer and the population of the world continues to grow every year.  People throughout the world need food, and people throughout the world need fuel for quite a few reasons.  Throughout the world, scientists are searching for ways to end the use of fossil fuels; the process of drilling for fossil fuels can be polluting, burning fossil fuels always causes pollution, and the world’s supply of fossil fuels will eventually be exhausted.  Biofuels are among the cleanest sources of fuels in the world.  Crops such as cane sugar, corn and sugar beets can easily be used to produce ethanol.  Crops such as soy beans and peanuts can easily be refined to produce biodiesel fuel.  However, there are quite a few regions in the world in which large numbers of people are experiencing food shortages, and the same land that is used to grow crops which are used to produce biofuels can also easily be used to grow crops which people enjoy eating.

The Green Perspective On Quitting Smoking

One does not have to be an expert in economics to realize that every time you smoke a cigarette, chew tobacco, smoke a cigar or a pipe, you’re contributing to the demand for tobacco.  As long as there exists a demand for a product, someone will find a way to supply it.

If you smoke, in addition to health concerns, you may want to consider that the land that is used to grow tobacco could be used to grow quite a few other crops, including fruits and vegetables.  If you work for a company which is involved in manufacturing, promoting or selling tobacco products, then perhaps you may want to consider reading some articles about the “food vs. fuel” debate, and consider how the land which is used to grow tobacco could be used for more productive purposes.  

 I was never a smoker, but I know it can be very difficult to quit.  Smoking is physically and psychologically addicting.  This has been studied extensively for many decades by scientists in many countries.  Cigarettes are known to be as addictive as cocaine or heroin. However, addictive behaviors are easy to quit once you have a reason to want to.  The reasons people quit smoking are often some of the same reasons that people start smoking- they reexamine how it makes them look and how it makes them feel.  If you are interested in tips for quitting smoking, Adrienne Gagne wrote an article which appears in the December 18th 2016 issue of The Pavlovic Today, in which she describes some useful advice for quitting.

Difficulties Associated With Determining What Percentage Of The World’s Tobacco Is Used In Manufacturing Cigarettes, Cigars, Pipe And Chewing Tobacco

The government agencies which regulate agriculture throughout the world know how many acres are devoted to growing tobacco within their respective countries, so the administrators within the WHO do know approximately how many millions of acres of land are used for growing tobacco throughout the world.  However, it is difficult to determine what percentage of the tobacco which is grown throughout the world annually is used in manufacturing cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco, and what percentage of the tobacco which is grown throughout the world is used in manufacturing other products, including products which are intended to assist people in the process of quitting smoking.  Under current laws in most countries, the manufacturers of nicotine gum and nicotine patches are required to list the ingredients that are contained in those products, but they are not required to list the sources where they’ve acquired those ingredients from.  Therefore, as consumers we do not know if the nicotine which is found in nicotine patches and nicotine gum was extracted from tobacco leaves, or if it was chemically synthesized from other sources.  Extracting concentrated nicotine from tobacco leaves is an easy means of acquiring nicotine which can be used in those aforementioned products, but nicotine can also be chemically synthesized.

Products such as nicotine gum and patches do successfully assist people in quitting smoking.  However, products such as patches and gum are still delivering nicotine directly into the users’ bodies.  These products are delivering a lesser quantity of nicotine than the consumer would absorb by smoking cigarettes, but we need to remember there are no harmless quantities of nicotine

We also do not know if some of the flavoring additives which are found in electronic cigarettes are extracted from tobacco leaves, or if these additives were chemically synthesized.   Electronic cigarettes are a newer product, so scientists have had less time to research these.  Electronic cigarettes contain many of the same chemicals as cigarettes. Current research shows that while electronic cigarettes pose the same risk to smokers that cigarettes do, it appears that electronic cigarettes cause fewer problems of second hand smoke because the vapors dissipate into the air much faster than smoke does.


 

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