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Happy Earth Day!

Most people view cigarettes as a health problem, but they are a huge environmental problem as well.  The tobacco control community is increasingly recognizing the importance of this issue; this year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day is “Tobacco: Threat to our environment.”

Cigarettes have a negative impact on the environment – from growing the tobacco to throwing away the butt. Below are examples of how tobacco harms the environment at the beginning, middle, and end of its life cycle.

Beginning- Tobacco Farming

Tobacco cultivation is responsible for land and water pollution, as well as deforestation. Tobacco plants are prone to many insect pests, and therefore tobacco farmers are forced to use pesticides to keep the plants healthy. Not only do tobacco growers often get sick from the pesticides, but the pesticides also leach into the soil and water.

Tobacco growth and cultivation also causes deforestation. It’s estimated that 600 million trees are cut down every year to produce tobacco products.

Middle- Air Pollution

Tobacco cultivation is a source of air pollution, but cigarettes also have a significant effect on air pollution while they are being smoked. When cigarettes are burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous.

A study in Italy found that cigarettes release 10 times as much particulate matter into the air as a diesel engine. Smoke from cigarettes and from tobacco cultivation is contributing to climate change- a person who smokes produces 5 tons of CO2 in their lifetime.

End- Tobacco Product Waste

In 2009, tobacco products—primarily cigarette butts— comprised nearly 38% of all collected litter items from roadways and streets. In 2010, over one million (1,181,589) cigarettes or cigarette filters—enough to fill 94,626 packs—were removed from American beaches and inland waterways.

Cigarette butts are toxic to animals and children that may swallow them, they pollute groundwater, and they leach chemicals into soil. 

Compounding this problem is the waste from other items related to smoking such as cigarette packages and lighters or matches. Cigarette butts and other tobacco-related trash are a massive environmental problem.


The environmental impact of tobacco intersects with all of our other programs at ASH.

Human rights like the right to health, clean water, and air are implicated. The negative impacts tobacco has on the environment provides even more reasons to end the tobacco epidemic for good, like through Project Sunset.

Help us protect the environment by supporting our work, and look out for ASH’s report on Tobacco Product Waste, coming in late May 2022, just in time for World No Tobacco Day on May 31st!