Save The Planet, Quit Cigarettes – How Stopping Smoking Can Protect The Environment


Many are aware of the negative health impacts of cigarettes, but there is a significant environmental component to them as well. According to The Lancet Respiratory Medicine correspondence, tobacco-related waste is historically one of the most significant contributors of plastic waste on Earth. It’s estimated that 766,571 metric tons of used cigarette butts make their way to our forests, oceans, and public spaces, harming plants and wildlife in the process. Cigarette use rates may be steadily dwindling, but for the 1.3 billion remaining tobacco users globally, the only way to minimize tobacco-related environmental damage is to quit cigarettes entirely. Here is how one’s cigarette habit may be affecting the planet:

How Cigarettes Impact the Earth

Responsible for deforestation and climate change

Growing tobacco and drying the tobacco leaf can directly cause deforestation; it’s estimated that cigarette manufacturing can be blamed for 5% of worldwide deforestation. Aside from reducing the fertility of the surrounding soil by creating risks for soil erosion or contaminating groundwater, one tree has to be burned for every 300 cigarettes produced. This is alarming, as the latest WHO data indicates that six trillion cigarettes are consumed yearly. In addition, cigarettes are estimated to contribute 84 megatons of greenhouse gases annually, exacerbating climate change-related outcomes. However, deforestation-related harms don’t just come from tobacco production at the macro level. According to a National Geographic report, only ten to fifteen wildfires occur spontaneously. A shocking 85% to 90% of the cases directly result from human causes, such as discarded cigarettes.

Contributes to waste pollution

Several studies have shown that a significant number of smokers practice improper disposal habits. An International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health survey asked over 7,500 respondents to report on their littering behaviors within the last 24 hours. The respondents improperly disposed of over 25,300 butts. If this pattern is repeated daily, this small cohort of respondents would be responsible for 9.2 million improperly-disposed cigarette butts per year. Careless littering seems to be predicated on the assumption that cigarette butts are biodegradable, but cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, which can take up to eighteen months to decompose. Cellulose acetate joins the plastic waste and other anthropogenic litter already in the water, which then dissolves into microplastics that seep into our drinking water supply – and clog sea creatures’ internal systems.

Harms wildlife

A 2021 Keep America Beautiful report indicates that, of the 9.7 billion cigarette butts littered in the US each year, four billion end up in waterways and spell disaster for marine life. According to Truth Initiative, littered cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals, like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and more, which can contaminate the water that fish live in. This risk also affects animals who unsuspectingly ingest cigarette butts. The Journal of Hazardous Materials reported on an International Coastal Cleanup drive of over 100 countries, where it was discovered that cigarette butts were the most littered item on the beach. This poses a direct risk to fish, as a San Diego University study found that just one cigarette butt in one liter of water was enough to kill both marine and freshwater fish. Thus, environmentally-conscious individuals should consider options that minimize adverse health outcomes while prioritizing the planet’s health.

Considering cigarette alternatives

According to a 2023 survey by the World Economic Forum, 75% of respondents want to make more sustainable purchases actively. This may translate to tobacco consumption habits as well, with the emergence of tobacco-free, smoke-free, and odor-free nicotine alternatives. However, some cigarette variants are more challenging to quit than others; in 2020, over 40% of cigarette smokers used menthol cigarettes, which are associated with more frequent smoking. Thus, dropping tobacco is vital for one’s health and the environment — and better sooner rather than later.

Nicotine pouches

Many nicotine options, such as nicotine pouches, contain synthetic nicotine, which is developed in a lab and not derived from tobacco leaf. Menthol smokers who want to mitigate cigarette-related environmental damage can opt for ZYN wintergreen pouches infused with menthol notes and a hint of sweetness. These options offer the same minty-fresh mouthfeel as a menthol cigarette without the impacts explicitly associated with cellulose acetate filters. A Substance Use and Addiction study found that switching from menthol to non-menthol cigarettes was associated with reduced smoking frequency, which means veering away from menthol cigarettes is the first step to smoking cessation. This can then be supported with more eco-friendly nicotine alternatives like pouches.

Nicotine lozenges

Another nicotine alternative that eliminates improper disposal while supporting one’s quit journey is the nicotine lozenge. For instance, the Nicorette mini lozenges are designed to dissolve three times faster than other lozenges on the market. According to the brand, this could double a smoker’s odds of quitting successfully. Nicotine pouches often come in a catch lid for discreet and proper disposal; similarly, these lozenges come in a discreet pocket-size vial that can be recycled to store other items. Because nicotine lozenges dissolve entirely in the mouth, users need not worry about harming plants and wildlife when using them.

Other quitting tips

It can be challenging to stay on track during smoking cessation, but it’s important to remember how this seemingly insignificant action can positively impact your health and the environment. Fittingly, you can leverage nature to keep you grounded in your quit process. Incorporate brisk walking, hiking, or simply watching the sunset in your daily routine to distract you from your cigarette cravings. These can boost overall wellness and support respiratory and cardiovascular functions, potentially helping your body recover from the worst effects of cigarette smoke. SmokeFreeGov says even light exercises can reduce cravings for up to 50 minutes after the workout.

Finally, we discussed Save Our Globe’s initiatives to combat deforestation caused by the tobacco trade by planting trees. A symbolic way to say goodbye to tobacco smoking would be to plant a few trees in honor of the trees that perished due to your cigarette habit. Seek assistance from local reforestation initiatives so the tree planted has the best chance of growing properly. For every person who quits smoking, our environment stands an incrementally better chance at staying alive and healthy for the next generation of humans.


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