User:QuackGuru/Sand 34

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[1] [1]

Tobacco product waste of a Puff Bar and a cigarette butt.
Tobacco product waste
Cigarette butt waste from a Parliament cigarette.
Cigarette butt waste

Tobacco has a considerable planetary footprint.[2] Toxic chemicals released from tobacco manufacturing plants include ammonia, nicotine, hydrochloric acid, methanol, and nitrates.[3] While cigarettes still comprise almost 90% of all tobacco sales globally as of 2020 (except for South Asia), other tobacco products, especially electronic cigarettes, also weigh heavily on the environment.[3] Growing research and public awareness of the environmental impacts of tobacco present an opportunity for environmental science and public health to work together.[3] Various United Nations agencies share interests in mitigating the environmental costs of tobacco.[3] Since 2000, transnational tobacco industry consolidation has accelerated, spotlighting the specific companies responsible for the environmental and human harms along the tobacco production chain.[3]

The World Health Organization's 2017 report "Tobacco and Its Environmental Impact: An Overview" calls attention to the environmental burden of growing, curing, packaging, transporting, manufacturing, and distributing 6.25 trillion cigarette sticks annually.[3] Tobacco manufacturing and usage contributes to the climate crisis.[4] Tobacco smoke emissions from cigarettes alone on a global scale contribute significant masses of toxicants to the global environment.[3] In a single year, direct emissions from smoking contribute tens of thousands of metric tons of known human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases.[3] Toxic emissions from all smoked cigarettes annually include an estimated 3000–6000 metric tons of formaldehyde and 12 000–47 000 tons of nicotine.[3] In addition, three major greenhouse gases are released in significant amounts via tobacco smoke: carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides.[3] The tobacco industry is engaging in greenwashing tactics to conceal their devastating impacts that they are causing to the environment.[5]

The tobacco industry identifies manufacturing as the most environment-destroying step of tobacco production.[3] Common environmental impacts on which tobacco companies report include annual CO2-equivalent emissions, energy use and mix, water use, waste water effluent, tonnage of solid waste to landfill, percentage of waste recycled, and tonnage of hazardous waste.[3] This is standard for most manufactures of products.[3] Tobacco manufacturing is extremely water-use intensive for plant commodities.[3] While tobacco companies claim incremental gains in water conservation over previous years, their impact on fresh water remains substantial.[3] In conjunction with obtaining nicotine from a natural source such as from tobacco plants or tobacco dust, there are ways to chemically make nicotine.[6] Which source of nicotine is used, and which processes are used by companies is uncertain.[6] The manufacturing of nicotine is associated with the release of emissions into the environment.[6] The impacts of tobacco manufacturing on ecosystems, humans, and animals are difficult to quantify.[3]

The rise of e-cigarettes in industrialized countries is changing the composition of the environmental harms of tobacco.[3] Because these products are composed of low-value but sophisticated electronics, the environmental costs from manufacturing e-cigarettes may be substantially more severe than cigarettes per unit.[3] E-cigarettes made in different countries are manufactured according to the standards of the manufacturer's country, and do not always conform to laws for exposures to metals and other toxicants in the countries they are used.[3] It does not appear as if any cradle-to-grave industrial ecology has been undertaken to minimize the amount of ecological impact of e-cigarette manufacturing and disposal.[3] E-cigarettes that are thrown away that end up in landfills is a rising public health concern.[7] Tobacco prevention may be utilized as a way to address the extremely damaging environmental consequences of tobacco production and consumption.[8] Quitting vaping[9] and quitting smoking is beneficial for the environment.[8]

Emerging research and public awareness

Growing research and public awareness of the environmental impacts of tobacco present an opportunity for environmental science and public health to work together.[3] Various United Nations agencies share interests in mitigating the environmental costs of tobacco.[3] Since 2000, transnational tobacco industry consolidation has accelerated, spotlighting the specific companies responsible for the environmental and human harms along the tobacco production chain.[3] Simultaneously, corporate social responsibility norms have led the industry to disclose statistics on the environmental harms their business causes.[3] Yet, independent and consistent reporting remain hurdles to accurately assessing tobacco's environmental impact.[3] 2020 represents the first review to analyze publicly available industry data on tobacco manufacturing pollution.[3] Tobacco's significant environmental impact suggests this industry should be included in environmental analyses as a driver of environmental degradation influencing climate change.[3] Countries aiming to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals must act to reduce environmental harms caused by the tobacco industry.[3]


The World Health Organization's 2017 report "Tobacco and Its Environmental Impact: An Overview" calls attention to the environmental burden of growing, curing, packaging, transporting, manufacturing, and distributing 6.25 trillion cigarette sticks annually.[3] So far as of 2017, the global tobacco control agenda has mainly focused on the one billion smokers and seven million people per year dying globally from tobacco use and exposure.[3] Yet, important research examining deforestation and cigarette butt waste has made the public health case for confronting tobacco's environmental impact—creating allies between public health and environmental interests.[3]

Cigarette smoke
Cigarette smoke

Tobacco smoke emissions from cigarettes alone on a global scale contribute significant masses of toxicants to the global environment.[3] In a single year, direct emissions from smoking contribute tens of thousands of metric tons of known human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases.[3] Toxic emissions from all smoked cigarettes annually include an estimated 3000–6000 metric tons of formaldehyde and 12 000–47 000 tons of nicotine.[3] In addition, three major greenhouse gases are released in significant amounts via tobacco smoke: carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides.[3] One 2004 study found that the environmental pollution from smoking three cigarettes caused up to ten times the small particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations of idling a diesel car engine for 30 minutes.[3]

Hand in hand with tobacco's ecological harms, the environmental justice consequences of tobacco are pressing.[3] The human harms from deforestation, farm workers experiencing green leaf sickness, soil exhaustion, and other fallout from tobacco farming, mostly occurring in low- and middle-income countries, has become legible to environmental organizations, governments, and intergovernmental institutions.[3] The sizable environmental impact of cigarette butt litter—the most pervasive litter item found on beach clean ups;—also pollutes terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.[3] Because of the high air content, cigarette filters, usually made of cellulose acetate fiber, are floating.[10] A cigarette butt can float on top of the aquatic ecosystem over a long distance before sinking.[11] About 1.2 million tonnes of cigarette butts are tossed into the environment annually.[12] Industrial ecology research on product lifecycle analysis, however, has yet to adequately address the tobacco industry's considerable contribution to environmental pollution and degradation.[3]

Tobacco cultivation and curing are directly responsible for deforestation, given that forests are eliminated and replaced with tobacco plantations, and the wood is burned to cure the leaves of the plants.[13] It is estimated that 11.4 million metric tons of wood are annually required for curing tobacco.[13]

Adult smoking prevalence and second-hand smoke exposure in the US

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to address global challenges to both sustainability and development, incorporate as target 3a the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the landmark international treaty and global governance structure ratified by 181 countries to reduce the damage of the tobacco epidemic.[3] This reinforces the need to focus on tobacco as a global industry considerably contributing to environmental degradation and health inequalities.[3] Increasingly, the reinforcing effects of environmental sustainability and public health intersect in their fight to reduce the consequences of tobacco.[3]

2020 also represents the first review of the environmental costs of tobacco manufacturing using the industry's own published data.[3] While estimations exist, quantifying the environmental damage of the tobacco industry has not yet been fully measured, understood, or acted upon.[3] This is due in part to a lack of accurate, reliable, independent environmental reporting and data transparency.[3] Until the early 2000's, few data were publicly available.[3] Since the early 2000's, some data has been made voluntarily available through pressure on the industry to abide by prevailing corporate social responsibility standards, although these reports are neither systematic nor standardized.[3] Nonetheless, analyzing the tobacco industry's own data reporting the environmental costs of tobacco manufacturing clarifies the contribution of tobacco to environmental pollution, even if this self-reported data emerges from flawed methods and an overly narrow scope.[3]

Reported tobacco manufacturing data

The largest tobacco companies currently report their annual energy use, CO2-equivalent emissions, water use, water discharge, hazardous waste, and total waste, including or omitting different areas of reporting over time.[3] For example, Altria does not report water discharge data, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) stopped after 2014 reporting intensity (number of cigarettes produced or millions of dollars of revenue per unit of pollution), and the granularity of reporting detail differs dramatically by corporation.[3] To the extent possible, current data on these metrics is included for six major tobacco companies: Altria/Philip Morris, Philip Morris International (PMI), Reynolds American Inc. (RAI, now a subsidiary of BAT), British American Tobacco (BAT), Imperial Brands (formerly Imperial Tobacco), and Japan Tobacco International (JTI).[3] China National Tobacco Company (CNTC) is addressed separately, as the company, which produces more than 40% of the world's cigarettes, appears to follow different voluntary reporting systems.[3] As of 2020, available manufacturing data pertain mainly to cigarettes, rather than to smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes.[3]

Theoretical framework and background

Socioeconomic and environmental impacts generated during the different phases of tobacco plantation, production, consumption (smoking) and the discarding of its wastes.
Socioeconomic and environmental impacts generated during the different phases of tobacco plantation, production, consumption (smoking) and the discarding of its wastes.[13]

While the questions surrounding the tobacco industry's corporate social responsibility reporting and auditing are unique due to the scrutiny this particular industry receives, the problems of industry externalities and the lack of transparent third-party auditing are more general problems with the corporate social responsibility paradigm shared by other companies.[3] Fernando and Lawrence in 2014 propose an integrated theoretical framework for explaining corporate social responsibility practices by bringing together three inter-related and complementary theories: legitimacy theory, stakeholder theory and institutional theory.[3] This integrated approach supports the existing research on the motivation and impact of the tobacco industry's own corporate social responsibility efforts.[3] While tobacco corporate social responsibility programs and the marketing of these programs is constrained more than some industries, insofar as in many developed countries they cannot use their corporate social responsibility donations to explicitly promote their product to youth, nonetheless like other industries the tobacco industry seeks to profit from their corporate social responsibility efforts and "neutralize" negative publicity.[3] The tobacco industry's corporate social responsibility initiatives related to reducing their environmental harms display a lack of transparency and independent verification, that limit objective assessment of the environmental impact of tobacco manufacturing.[3]

Accounting for the environmental impact of tobacco manufacturing requires foremost having access to reliable data.[3] Two problems arise: one procedural, the other epistemological.[3] While environmental accounting in the last decades has become less haphazard and more scientific, it remains an inexact art.[3] Open questions include: do consulting and auditing firms have full access to industry data, and is the industry reporting everything? Are companies aware of all externalities, or may there be other costs not yet reckoned due to conceptual blinders? Are these data being fully reported? From the tobacco industry's publicly available materials, there are clear gaps and discrepancies from year to year.[3] If the data exist, why are they not reported? If they do not exist, why not?[3]

The lack of independent third-party oversight of these reports, i.e., oversight from agencies not directly paid and thus incentivized by tobacco company interests to favorably report, also is common among many industries, not just tobacco.[3] corporate social responsibility "disclosure interaction effects" may take place if there is incentive on the part of management to deliver corporate social responsibility goals, undermining the reliability of assurance agency reports for both investors and the public.[3] This problem exists across many industries.[3] Although the Global Reporting Initiative aims to develop standards for corporate social responsibility auditing, because corporate social responsibility assurance companies operate in a "competitive, mainly unregulated market," the credibility of directly industry-paid corporate social responsibility assurances can lack, or be perceived to lack, credibility.[3]

Because tobacco's particular harm to human and environmental health, and the non-essential status of the product, mandating data transparency for tobacco manufacturing warrants prioritization.[3] Policies to provide a mechanism for outside accounting could consider tobacco product taxes to account for environmental impact, and then allow independent auditing of the tobacco industry using state funds, creating a financial firewall between industry and corporate social responsibility assurance agencies.[3] As of 2020, however, such an arrangement is absent.[3] Piecemeal rather than organized reporting, and in-house rather than government or agency oversight on environmental pollution, greatly restrict current scientific assessments of the environmental impacts of tobacco product manufacture.[3] Stipulating a standardized metric, assessed by disinterested third-party reporting agencies would be a first step to accurately determine the true costs of tobacco production.[3]

Research on what motivates industries to respond to their environmental and social impact exists for many industries, not just tobacco.[3] Companies tend to act based on a mixture of novel policy constraints, updated risk assessments, cost offsets, and the business opportunities that arise in tackling externalities.[3] Brand image is also crucial to a corporate social responsibility calculus.[3] Some companies have been shown to spend more money on advertising their corporate social responsibility than they actually spent on sustainability or social responsibility projects.[3] Minimizing environmental harms through comparison with other industries is also a common tactic.[3] For example, in PMI's 2016 "Communication on Progress" for the UN Global Compact, PMI minimizes the water costs of tobacco, arguing that "[t]obacco growing and manufacturing take around one-third of the water required to make the same amount of tea or one-sixth that of coffee or chocolate (per weight of finished product)".[3] PMI's comparison attempts to put tobacco on par with these other products, ignoring the differentiator that these other products do not kill one in two of their daily users, as tobacco does.[3]

Tobacco companies appear to place the environmental externalities and global environmental impact of their business lowest in their list of priorities, overlooking that the environmental costs of tobacco manufacturing and distribution extends beyond these companies.[3] This may be due to fiduciary responsibilities, or a lack of research and awareness of tobacco's environmental harms.[3] The latter reason is supported by the fact that the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), an umbrella group of tobacco control NGOs supporting the FCTC, in a literature review on each of the FCTC's 38 articles, could not identify any literature on tobacco and the sustainable management of water and energy for their 2015 data report.[3] The FCA's inability to locate relevant studies on the sustainability of the tobacco manufacturing reveals the need for systematic and independently verified data.[3]

Industry estimations regarding what constitutes an environmental issue versus appraisals by regulatory bodies also diverge.[3] In a reporting questionnaire from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) asking "Was your organization subject to any penalties, fines and/or enforcement orders for breaches of abstraction licenses, discharge consents or other water and wastewater-related regulations in the reporting year?" PMI answered, "Yes, not significant," while reporting that 10% of their facilities were cited and fined for wastewater violations.[3] One of the violations was for sub-par wastewater quality, including "increased levels of detergents, phosphates, [and] ammonium nitrogen above relatively tight limits for these substances in the Ukraine".[3] PMI's deemphasizing evaluation of the severity of their own violations, indicative of the industry as a whole, highlights a discrepancy between what qualifies as significant environmental health trespasses for the industry versus the determined limits of existing environmental health standards.[3] There could be other environmental health violations that are not reported either because they are not regarded by the industry as violations or because such reporting is not required.[3]

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Article 12.4 specifically refers to the 2020 goal of achieving "the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle," while Article 3a explicitly calls to "[s]trengthen the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate".[3] This heralds recognition of the crosscutting problem of tobacco on both human health and the environment.[3]

The United Nations Environmental Program's The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program's report, Natural Capital at Risk—The Top 100 Externalities of Business found that if the major industries, including tobacco manufacturing, accounted for their unaccounted environmental impacts—38% which are greenhouse gas emissions, 25% water use, 24% land use, and 7% air pollution—they would not be profitable.[3] As opposed to food, tobacco smoking is not a human necessity.[2] Greater than providing about 10 million people with edible food could have been created if all tobacco farming were switched to food farming.[8]

One problem with sustainability goals—both public and private—is the perennial problem of the shifting baseline.[3] Percent reductions of emissions are always measured against a set date when emissions were estimated.[3] If the baseline is the highpoint for polluting and inefficiency, then any improvement will appear a major gain.[3] If, however, a previous or future baseline is taken, the same change over a different period might be cast in a less favorable light.[3] Similarly, if the baseline is pegged at the height of cigarette production, and then fewer cigarettes are subsequently produced and sold, absolute numbers of water use and CO2 emission will appear to go down, but their actual efficiency (or intensity) may remain unchanged.[3]

Another problem with voluntary environmental targets is that if a company fails to make the target, it is easy to simply stop reporting on the target or stop referring to the goal.[3] One example is in BAT's 2016 Sustainability Report.[3] BAT held a "long-term standard" for "BAT-owned leaf suppliers to use no more than an average of 1.5 kg of active chemicals per hectare of tobacco per year".[3] When in 2016 the average use of active chemicals per hectare of tobacco exceeded 2.16 kgs, BAT decided to "no longer have a global average target" and instead "will continue to work with our leaf suppliers to better understand how improvements in best practice can be applied in this area".[3] The move from measurable, quantifiable environmental goals to less measurable data when targets are not met is indicative of the problems with voluntary, non-mandatory environmental initiatives, a 2020 review states.[3]

A further problem generated by environmental goals in response to corporate social responsibility positioning is the tendency to initiate more environmentally friendly practices in countries with environmentally demanding publics, while continuing lower environmental standards in facilities off the radar of environmental advocates.[3] PMI's flagship green factories are in developed countries rather than facilities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).[3] As of 2018, they prominently display in their Sustainability Report that their "German factories are powered by electricity generated by 100% renewable sources" and that their "Canadian facilities in Quebec and Brampton reduced their energy consumption by over 10% through initiatives including [a] new building management system, upgraded boilers and energy efficient chillers".[3] Imperial Tobacco as of 2017 likewise emphasized the energy efficiency improvements to their German factories, while remaining silent on plants in LMICs.[3] These efforts to address point-source complaints often do not result in thoroughgoing environmental reforms and improvements at all facilities in countries where tobacco companies command more economic leverage.[3] The environmental costs of tobacco manufacturing present unaddressed environmental justice dimensions.[3]

Ecological footprint

Tobacoo waste

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's infographic on the environmental impacts of the tobacco lifecycle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's infographic on the environmental impacts of the tobacco lifecycle.[14]
Possible pathways for human health risks due to tobacco product waste
Possible pathways for human health risks due to tobacco product waste[15]

Discarded tobacco waste endangers the environment.[16] The majority of people who smoke do not correctly dispose of their cigarette butts, resulting in severe environmental problems.[17] About 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are being littered every year.[18] This poses a major challenge to disposal regulations.[19] Cigarette butts and other tobacco product wastes are the most common items picked up in urban and beach cleanups worldwide.[15] Although it is difficult to estimate what percentage of the trillions of cigarettes consumed globally each year are discarded as waste, bans on indoor smoking may have exacerbated the accumulation of tobacco product waste outdoors.[15] Residents, business owners, and politicians have reported an increase in the quantity of cigarette butts littered after bans on indoor smoking took effect in local areas.[15] Littered cigarette butts may endanger the health of human babies and animals due to their indiscriminate eating habits.[20]

Tobacco cigarette waste can be seen on city sidewalks and public beaches.[21] Smokers often discard cigarette butts in public places improperly.[13] The prevalence of this habit is associated with several factors, such as poor law enforcement regarding littering, in general; absence of adequate penalties; and poor advertisement of the environmental problems caused by tobacco products, despite the focus of public campaigns on health issues for both smokers and second-hand smokers.[13] A serious lack of attention to the entire tobacco use timeline, its products and their resulting wastes makes anti-tobacco actions and pollution control difficult.[13]

Traditional cigarettes tend to end up in the ocean where they cause pollution.[22] Cigarettes butts are hard to collect.[12] Cigarette butts contain in excess of 4,000 dangerous chemicals.[23] Chemicals found in cigarettes butts include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, other aromatic hydrocarbons, metals, nitrosamines, carbonyl compounds, aldehydes, ketones, and phenols.[24] Cellulose acetate-based cigarette filters are not easily biodegradable and can persist in the environment for extended periods of time as microplastics.[25] The four primary components of a cigarette butt are ashes, smoked and unsmoked tobacco, paper, and a filter.[26] The majority of cigarettes used globally contain a filter.[27] Cigarette filters leach a variety of toxicants as they degrade.[28] Cigarette butts are a potential significant threat to an array of living organisms in terrestrial and aquatic environments.[29] Damaging effects to aquatic organisms caused by littered cigarette butts were found to be common.[30] Partially digested cigarette butts were found in 70% of sea birds and 30% of sea turtles analyzed.[31]

Heated tobacco products contaminate the environment.[32] E-cigarette waste and combustible tobacco product waste have contaminated high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.[33] Waste from e-cigarette products can contain plastics, nicotine, heavy metals, other chemical toxicants, and hazardous lithium-ion batteries.[33] The toxicity of combustible tobacco product waste from cigarettes (e.g., plastic cellulose acetate, nicotine, formaldehyde, lead, and cadmium) is well established.[33] According to Rüdiger Krech, director of health promotion at World Health Organization, 'Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded. Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year."[34]

Tobacco production

Tobacco has a significant planetary footprint.[2] Tobacco prevention may be utilized as a way to address the extremely damaging environmental consequences of tobacco production and consumption.[8] Quitting smoking is beneficial for the environment.[8] The tobacco industry identifies manufacturing as the most environment-destroying step of tobacco production.[3] Forty-three cents out of every dollar of industry costs goes towards the manufacturing process, in contrast to only four cents spent on purchasing tobacco leaf itself.[3] A 2006 corporate social responsibility report from Imperial Brands states, "Our greatest direct impact on the environment comes from our product manufacturing activities".[3] As the ecological footprint from farming tobacco has been more completely assessed than manufacturing and has proven significant, Imperial's statement—and the likelihood that their disclosure reflects proportional ecological footprints of other tobacco companies—emphasizes the need to learn more about the environmental impact of tobacco manufacturing.[3]

Environmental impact components

Common environmental impacts on which tobacco companies report include annual CO2-equivalent emissions, energy use and mix, water use, waste water effluent, tonnage of solid waste to landfill, percentage of waste recycled, and tonnage of hazardous waste.[3] This is standard for most manufactures of products.[3] The categories of reporting, however, were incomplete in the early 2000s, mostly focusing on complying with ISO 14001 and 14064 requirements related to environmental management in compliance with quantifying and reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reductions.[3] Self-reporting in the past decade has grown to include elaborate environmental audits by third-party certification consultants, including ascertaining some of suppliers' environmental externalities along the commodity chain.[3] Baselines established a decade ago by the industry itself become references for the industry to set benchmarks for more efficient processes, measured by decreasing inputs and externalities (e.g., CO2-equivalent emissions) to achieve a higher manufacturing intensity (or efficiency) per million cigarettes produced or per million dollars of revenue.[3]

Reducing environmental harms from tobacco manufacture requires assessing all the primary points of pollution.[3] Stanford University’s Citadels industry manufacturing facilities map ( provides insight into the scope of pollution caused by the 560 tobacco processing and manufacturing facilities worldwide.[3] Various elements to tobacco manufacturing create waste and emissions, including preparation and treatment of the tobacco leaf, chemical additives, paper wrapping, filters, and other components, each demanding energy, water, waste, and materials.[3] While there are many points of intervention in the tobacco product supply chain, the leaf threshing and processing factories, storage, and warehouses—the components of tobacco manufacturing—are the aspects of the commodity chain best captured by current reported data.[3]

CO2-equivalent emissions

Information presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the environmental impacts of the tobacco lifecycle.
Information presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the environmental impacts of the tobacco lifecycle.[14]
Reported CO2e emissions from tobacco manufacturing
Reported CO2e emissions from tobacco manufacturing[3]

For CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions, the majority of release happens in the agricultural production of tobacco leaf, followed by the supply of non-tobacco materials and distribution and logistics.[3] Nonetheless, manufacturing pollution, distribution, and logistics (transport) pollution still comprise approximately a third of tobacco's environmental impact due to CO2e pollution.[3]

To determine total CO2e emissions and other environmental harms, generally climate change policymakers distinguish between three different "scopes" of emissions and resource usage.[3] Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from sources directly controlled by a company or organization. Scope 2 emissions encompass emissions from energy use dependent on source type.[3] Scope 3 includes indirect emissions, or CO2e embedded in purchased goods and services, transportation and distribution, capital goods, and activities not directly under the company's control but which they can influence.[3]

For 2017 scope 1 emissions globally, for example, PMI emitted 229 116 tons CO2e from manufacturing, 118 487 tons due to its vehicle fleet, 3947 from aircraft, and 440 tons from its office activity.[3] For scope 2 emissions, PMI emitted 434 460 tons CO2e from manufacturing, and 15 800 from offices.[3] Included in these scope 2 emissions, PMI burned 250 645 megawatt hours (MWh) of diesel, 260 866 MWh of gasoline, and 41 348 MWh of brown coal, for a total of 923 345 MWh.[3] Scope 3 CO2e emissions for PMI, however, reached 3 611 000 tons, their majority.[3] These emissions include the carbon costs of burning wood and coal to cure tobacco as well as the materials for the cigarette such as packaging, cigarette papers, and acetate tow for filters.[3] While PMI and other companies described instituting measures to reduce the most polluting types of energy use, such as replacing wood for curing with gas facilities, these interventions did not significantly decrease their emissions year-on-year.[3]

Emissions by the global tobacco industry are roughly on par with those of other major industries.[3] For comparison, the coffee house chain Starbucks, with 16 000 stores in 61 countries serving 50 million customers per week, emits 1 340 000 tons of CO2e per year (scope 1 & 2 in 2015) to PMI's reported 1 150 000 tons for scope 1 and 2.[3] By extrapolation, assuming that other tobacco manufactures have similar greenhouse gas effluent, since PMI has 14.6% of the global tobacco market, the global total for tobacco CO2e emissions (scopes 1–3) is estimated to be 31 million tons of CO2e—about half Chevron Corporation's 66 million tons CO2e 2016 emissions.[3] By another calculation, the entire product lifecycle of a single cigarette contributes 5.72 grams of CO2e, leading to 39.4 million tons of CO2e for the 6.25 trillion cigarettes produced worldwide.[3] That the tobacco industry's CO2e emissions are in the same general category with a major oil company, without providing any social benefit, raises the social question of whether such continued emissions are worth their costs in exacerbating climate change.[3]

Energy use

Reported yearly energy use for some of the largest tobacco companies
Reported yearly energy use for some of the largest tobacco companies[3]

As with CO2e emissions, with energy, companies make green claims as well, that they are decreasing scope 1 and 2 emissions.[3] For example, in their 2014 corporate social responsibility Report, Altria states that it "converted coal-fired boilers to natural gas boilers at three manufacturing facilities, significantly decreasing Scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions".[3] BAT derived nearly all of its energy from non-renewable sources, as of 2018.[3] PMI’s reported energy use is anomalously low, less than half of that of BAT, even though PMI produces more cigarettes worldwide.[3] For this reason, BAT’s energy use has been used here to extrapolate total global total energy usage, as BAT is between JTI and PMI both in terms of cigarettes produced and total energy use.[3]

All major tobacco companies consume various forms of fossil fuels.[3] In terms of the mix of energy consumed in 2016, just counting nonrenewable resources, Altria, for instance, consumed 22.6 million hundred cubic feet (hcf) of natural gas, 36 176 gallons of fuel oil, 870 293 gallons of propane, 151 743 gallons of diesel, 2 789 801 gallons of gasoline, and 429 381 gallons of jet fuel.[3] But what is not included in Altria's report is that a 2009 Trucost report found that "Tobacco company Altria Group Inc, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, has the highest carbon intensity in the [entire] Personal and Household Goods sector," placing Altria in the same carbon intensity group as oil and coal companies, the highest quintile.[3] While Trucost focused on Altria in their report, the company is not especially anomalous among major tobacco companies for their high use of carbon-intensive fuels.[3]


Irrigation of a tobacco field near Ketsch

Manufacturing intensity refers to how much per unit of product is required for a given metric, such as energy, CO2 emissions, water use, or waste production.[3] For example, compared to their 2009 baseline, in 2013 JTI required per cigarette roughly 10% more energy, 5% more CO2e emissions, but 10% less water.[3] Their report did not contain the raw data, however.[3] Reporting in per million cigarettes only, instead of also including absolute numbers, obscures rising overall environmental costs, as the company produces more cigarettes each year.[3] Even if manufacturing becomes more efficient for some measures, if more total cigarettes are produced, environmental harm is nonetheless increased.[3] While during the 2000s and early 2010s the standard unit of measurement for intensity was "x amount of [water, CO2, energy, etc.] per million cigarettes produced," a recent trend as of 2015 has been to not mention the amount of environmental impact per cigarettes produced by instead measuring intensity in environmental costs per million of US dollars or British pounds of net tobacco revenue.[3] To manufacture one cigarette, roughly 3.7 liters of water is needed across its life cycle.[35]

Water consumption and discharge

Reported water consumption used during tobacco products manufacturing
Reported water consumption used during tobacco products manufacturing[3]
Reported water discharge during tobacco product manufacturing
Reported water discharge during tobacco product manufacturing[3]
Reported waste disposal related to tobacco manufacturing: Landfill
Reported waste disposal related to tobacco manufacturing: Landfill[3]

Tobacco manufacturing is extremely water-use intensive for plant commodities.[3] While tobacco companies claim incremental gains in water conservation over previous years, their impact on fresh water remains substantial.[3] In the available data from 2014, Altria's water consumption reporting is anomalously high.[3] Imperial acknowledges that 92% of all water use occurs in tobacco growing, with another 7% used in paper and cardboard manufacturing, with only 1% of their water use due to end-product manufacturing.[3] Using contracted but non-company suppliers for their tobacco leaf and other raw materials, tobacco companies can omit these environmental impacts from their public sustainability reporting, even if they privately hold full life cycle analysis data.[3]

Companies report less transparently on the amount of water they discharge, the refuse water released into the environment resulting from the manufacturing process.[3] Some companies, such as BAT in 2018 which claims to recycle and reuse 11% of its wastewater, aim to recapture their wastewater to reduce fresh water usage and the contamination problems wastewater presents.[3]

Waste disposal: Landfill, recycled, hazardous waste

Waste disposal: Landfill

For manufacturing, the sources of waste are both tobacco and constituents.[3] JTI, for example, purchases annually over 300 000 tons of non-tobacco materials for processing, much of which ends up in landfills after use.[3] JTI also reported in 2016 that 77% of waste is recycled, and 8% recovered, with 15% ending up in the landfill.[3]

Waste disposal: Recycled

While all companies report on their total waste, fewer document the percent of waste they recycle from the manufacturing process.[3] For some companies, it is unclear what type of handling of materials is included under the heading "recycled," and how much environmental effect these efforts have, without a more detailed and transparent reporting concerning what recycling waste entails.[3] For companies reporting waste recycling percentage, Altria reported in 2015 74.3 million pounds of recycled waste; JTI in 2018 recycled 78% of its waste; and RAI reported in 2017 69% of its solid waste is recycled.[3]

Waste disposal: Hazardous waste

Nicotine is a toxic pollutant.[36] According to the Toxic Release Inventory Database, over a million pounds of toxic chemicals were released in 2008 from tobacco manufacturing plants, including ammonia, nicotine, hydrochloric acid, methanol, and nitrates.[3] In terms of specific reporting, in 2011 BAT reported that 1973 metric tons of hazardous waste were produced from the tobacco manufacturing process; Altria discharged 999 lb of phosphorus in wastewater, and 17 000 lb of nitrogen, according to their 2014 corporate social responsibility Report; and Imperial produced 330 tons of hazardous waste in 2016.[3]

Nicotine production process

In conjunction with obtaining nicotine from a natural source such as from tobacco plants or tobacco dust, there are ways to chemically make nicotine.[6] For instance, to make synthetic nicotine according to a US patent, the process involves using solvents such as formaldehyde, formic acid, and dichloromethane.[6] It is refined by high vacuum distillation, which may mean that the waste enters the atmosphere.[6] The resultant nicotine product is created by a chemical reaction of formaldehyde with formic acid, leading to further waste products entering the atmosphere.[6] Which source of nicotine is used, and which processes are used by companies is uncertain.[6] Whether obtained from a natural source or chemically synthesized, the manufacturing of nicotine causes the release of emissions into the environment.[6]

Environmental manufacturing goals

Another aspect of tobacco companies' corporate social responsibility programs is to establish 'Environmental Goals' for their manufacturing processes (e.g., PMI's 2018 Sustainability Report).[3] These include measurable reductions in energy use, increases in the proportion of facility waste that is recycled or reused, and reduced CO2e emissions and water consumption, among other common stated goals.[3] For example, BAT's 2014 sustainability report claimed a 45% reduction in CO2e emissions against 2000 emissions, and other companies highlight what they are doing to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their production facilities.[3] Altria's 2014 Environmental Manufacturing Goals for 2016 included reducing energy use by 10%, reducing GHG emissions by 20%, achieving 50% water neutrality (recycling water and investing in clean water elsewhere), recycling or reusing 95% of facility waste, and reducing packaging materials by 5 million pounds.[3] BAT emphasized its green credentials based on its inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability World and Europe Indexes in 2011.[3] They claimed, "To reduce our carbon footprint, we address our energy use, our waste to landfill and our business travel. We are also beginning to explore opportunities for generating and purchasing renewable energy".[3] At the same time, BAT in 2011 reported that in addition to the 909 496 metric tons of tobacco leaf they used in their products, they also used 442 893 metric tons of other materials including cigarette paper, wrapping, packaging, filters, glues, and inks, plus 41 951 metric tons of indirect materials such as cleaning agents.[3] Industry-initiated environmental goals appear to be based on revenue-capturing low hanging fruit rather than actually substantially addressing the most severe environmental costs of business.[3]

China National Tobacco Company

Extrapolating from the industrial ecology self-reporting from the largest tobacco companies, a total environmental impact can be ascertained, even in the absence of publicly available data from the Chinese National Tobacco Company.[3] The China's National Tobacco Company has nominally expanded into markets outside China (1% of total sales); nonetheless it produces roughly 44% of the cigarettes consumed globally as of 2016 (2.5 trillion out of 6.25 trillion), with China consuming roughly ten times as many cigarettes as any other nation as of 2017.[3] Thus, without data from the China's National Tobacco Company, evaluating the global environmental impacts of tobacco company manufacturing only accounts for roughly half the global total.[3]

As a government-owned company, the China's National Tobacco Company does not have the same transnational shareholder demands for reporting environmental accounting, as limited as these are.[3] What is known, is that China's National Tobacco Company disposes an estimated 175 000–600 000 cubic meters of wastewater per year, which contains fine suspended particles as well as aromatic compounds and nicotine, as of 2015.[3] One 2012 source in the Chinese edition of Fortune magazine reports that for China's National Tobacco Company the "…total industrial emissions of sulfur dioxide [amount to] 5688 tons, down 29.8%; chemical oxygen demand emissions are 2751 tons, down 11.7%".[3] No baseline is given in the article.[3] However, one Chinese National Tobacco Company subgroup, Jia Yao Holdings Limited, reported to have incurred environmental costs of approximately RMB451,000 (~ $70 000 US) for 2014 and RMB589000 (~ $90 000 US) for 2013, according to their 2015 annual report.[3] We were unable to determine whether these are government fines for polluting or other costs, and what share of market Jia Yao commands.[3] As of 2015, Jia Yao Holdings purports to comply with China's Law on the Prevention and Treatment of Solid Waste Pollution and Law of the People's Republic of China on the Promotion of Clean Production.[3] Such environmental claims, however, are undermined by statements such as "[t]he Directors are also of the view that our production process does not generate hazards that will cause any significant adverse impact on the environment"; other transnational tobacco companies are very aware indeed of their environmental impact: hence their strenuous reported efforts to reduce their impact.[3] Such appraisals of environmental impact are at odds with what is known about the environmental impacts of tobacco manufacturing as reported by other tobacco producers.[3] While China grows most of the tobacco China's National Tobacco Company uses, it has started expanding into other areas as of 2015, such as its recent use of Zimbabwe tobacco as of 2015, where it recently also set up manufacturing facilities.[3]

Electronic cigarette environmental concerns


Puff Bar product waste.
Puff Bar product waste

In addition to environmental harms from production, understanding the potential environmental impact of the use of e-cigarettes is important.[37] Beside the direct harm experienced by users, e-cigarette vapors are potent sources of air pollution such as aldehydes, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, VOCs, heavy metals, and nicotine.[37] Compared to smoke from conventional cigarettes, the amount of particulate matter and heavy metal emissions from e-cigarette vapor were found to be similar or greater.[37]

The use of e-cigarettes has grown in popularity worldwide.[37] E-cigarettes are highly popular among youth and young adults.[37] Consumption and sales of e-cigarettes have risen dramatically worldwide.[37] Sixty million e-cigarettes and refills are sold annually, and one-third of these are designed for single-use in the US.[37] The global market value was estimated to grow from US$ 14.53 billion in 2017 to US$ 48.9 billion by 2025.[37] In the year ending January 2023, there were 543,000 vapers in Scotland - of which 51,000 (9%) were under 16 and 78,000 (14%) were under 18.[38] Most under 18 e-cigarette users in Scotland prefer single-use vapes.[38]

The rise of e-cigarettes in industrialized countries is changing the composition of the environmental harms of tobacco.[3] Because these products are composed of low-value but sophisticated electronics, the environmental costs from manufacturing e-cigarettes may be substantially more severe than cigarettes per unit.[3]

Limited research

Evidence remains limited regarding the environmental impacts of e-cigarettes.[37] Furthermore, no studies have formally evaluated the environmental impacts of the life cycle of e-cigarettes.[37] Although information exists about the direct impact of e-cigarettes on health, very little scientific evidence exists concerning the environmental impact of the life cycle of these products and their potential indirect health harm.[37]

Despite the emphasis on the environmental threat of e-cigarettes, there are limited scientific studies on the environmental impacts of the e-cigarette life cycle (manufacturing, use, and disposal).[37] This life cycle is not studied enough for its impacts on human health associated with environmental pollution.[37] As a result, critical ecosystems providing clean water, air, and food production, can be negatively affected.[37]

Although limited data have been reported about the life cycle of e-cigarettes, they may represent a significant long-term environmental threat due to the toxic nature of their composition.[37] It is also unclear how the environmental impacts of e-cigarettes compare to those of conventional cigarettes.[37] For instance, it could be informative to compare the life cycle pollution from production to disposal between traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes.[37]

Public health implications

The impact of e-cigarettes on public health includes a range of consequences for the environment, such as air quality effects, energy and materials used, issues related to environmentally responsible disposal and land-use decisions.[9] From their manufacturing, use, and disposal, the environmental impacts of e-cigarettes present a novel public health concern.[37] An example is that e-cigarettes are a growing waste management concern because, despite their small size, they are consumed and discarded much more quickly than typical electronics.[37]

Emerging threat

As of 2017, Ibis World, an industry market research company, predicts that "the [traditional] Cigarette and Tobacco Product Manufacturing industry is in the declining stage of its life cycle".[3] They note, however, that the industry will resist this decline through expansion into e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery devices.[3]

The tobacco industry is aware of the new scope of environmental harms e-cigarettes pose.[3] PMI in 2016 discussed the "need to manage new areas of impact due to the increasing use of electronics and batteries in our products".[3] As tobacco companies increasingly are selling electronic smoking devices, they acknowledge that "while we embed new processes, the efficiency of our energy and water use may worsen until both knowledge and economies of scale improve".[3] PMI's Lifecycle Analysis performed for e-cigarettes and other so-called reduced-risk products (RRPs) "highlighted the impact that RRPs will have in [their ecological] footprint and plans in product development, manufacturing, distribution and rest of value chain have been implemented to mitigate their impact in our footprint".[3]

Tobacco industry environmental claims

Despite the absence of supporting data or environmental impact studies, eco-friendly claims have been used by manufacturers as a marketing strategy to promote e-cigarettes to consumers.[37]

Since e-cigarettes are mainly owned by the tobacco industry, it is important to question whether vaping is more eco-friendly than smoking, as companies claim.[37] Tobacco companies, including e-cigarette industries, recognize that they need to address novel environmental impacts caused by their growing use of batteries and other electronics in e-cigarettes.[37] Yet, despite recognition of the potential hazards, eco-friendly claims are often used as a marketing strategy by the tobacco industry.[37] If these claims are shown to be false, then 'greenwashing' needs to be called out to avoid misinformation being used as a tool to unethically drive consumer demand.[37]

Contradictory and confusing information exists concerning public health risks and benefits of e-cigarettes.[37] For example, their growing popularity can partly be attributed to e-cigarettes being marketed to the public as 'healthier alternatives' and 'eco-friendly' compared to conventional cigarettes.[37] However, several scientific studies suggest that e-cigarettes may have short- and long-term health effects.[37]


In regard to production, it is worth noting that e-cigarettes contain a battery, a heating element, an atomizer (aerosolization chamber), a cartridge, an e-liquid, and a mouthpiece.[37] Manufacturing the product is an energy-consuming process with associated environmental impacts.[37] For example, extraction and purification of nicotine from the tobacco plant requires a large amount of water and generates non-recyclable halogenated waste and pollution.[37] Also, as a result of e-cigarette marketing, the demand for tobacco crops could potentially increase, which would present a potential alteration in land use.[37]

Greater e-cigarette production demand drives increased pollution (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions), therefore contributing to processes that may lead to climate change.[37] Due to a lack of regulations in countries like the US, data on pollutant contamination of water, land, and air may not be obtained from manufacturing sites11.[37] However, global environmental impacts are important to consider because ingredients and components of e-cigarettes are manufactured and imported from low- and middle-income countries including India.[37]

Manufacturing standards

E-cigarettes made in different countries are manufactured according to the standards of the manufacturer's country, and do not always conform to laws for exposures to metals and other toxicants in the countries they are used.[3] E-cigarette manufacturers across the world have made minimal effort to make their products recyclable and to prevent valuable resources from winding up in landfills.[39]

Components and materials

The chemical content of e-liquids and the construction of e-cigarettes vary widely—from disposable single-use "cig-a-like" products resembling cigarettes, to refillable "vape pens," to "mods" and "tanks."[3] The best-selling device in the US in 2018 was the Juul cartridge-based or "pod" e-cigarette.[3] While the USB stick-shaped device is not single-use, its hard plastic e-juice cartridges are.[3] Because of the overwhelming diversity of products, no blanket assertion on the environmental impact of these products is possible.[3] Introducing new classes of plastics, metals, cartridges, lithium-ion batteries, and concentrated nicotine solutions, however, involves significantly more environmentally intensive manufacturing processes than products that are primarily made of plant material and plastic filters, as combustible cigarettes are.[3]

Each disposal e-cigarette device contains roughly 0.15 grams of lithium within its battery, which is a metal that both the US and EU designate as an essential raw material.[39] Greater than 90 tonnes of lithium were estimated to have been utilized in the manufacturing of disposal e-cigarette devices, which collectively generated $5 billion in global sales in 2022.[39] They also utilized approximately 1,160 tonnes of copper in the same period.[39] In 2022, the e-cigarette devices sold in the UK were made with enough copper to manufacture 370,000 at-home electric vehicle chargers and used enough lithium to create more than 2,500 EV batteries.[39]

Carbon footprint

The environmental impact of single use vapes include their greenhouse gas emissions.[38] Total emissions associated with disposable vapes in 2022 in Scotland were estimated to have been up to 4,292 tonnes CO2e – the equivalent of around 2,100 cars on Scotland's roads.[38]

Tobacco industry recycling challenges

Fundamentally, the tobacco industry has been aware of "cradle to grave" extended-producer responsibility manufacturing since at least as early as 1991, and has nonetheless refrained from implementing practices that could reduce the waste from their products, both in terms of production and disposal.[3] Conventional cigarette filters, for instance, have been proven to do more harm than good in terms of health, and these unnecessary appendages to cigarettes, originally developed in the 1950's to assuage growing fears over the health harms of cigarettes, directly harm the environment in their material production and disposal.[3] Based on reviewing industry documents, it does not appear as if any cradle-to-grave industrial ecology has been undertaken to minimize the amount of ecological impact of e-cigarette manufacturing and disposal.[3]

Consumer recycling challenges

Increased use of e-cigarettes has led to a rise in the release of e-cigarette waste and related contaminants into the environment.[37] E-cigarette emissions and waste contain measurable amounts of nicotine and other toxic chemicals, thereby serving as significant sources of environmental pollution.[37] E-cigarettes that are thrown away that end up in landfills is a rising public health concern.[7] Up to 26 million disposable vapes were consumed and thrown away in Scotland in the last year leading up to June 2023, of which an estimated 10% were littered and more than half were incorrectly disposed of, according to a 2023 Scottish Government report.[38] Each week, more than 1.3 million disposable vaping devices are thrown away in the UK.[40] According to recent findings by the Green Wings Project, as of 2023, 75% of UK users acknowledge they do not participate in recycling their used e-cigarette devices.[40] Most of these devices are not likely to be recycled.[39]

Some e-cigarettes are designed to be completely disposable, while others are rechargeable.[37] Disposable e-cigarettes and vaping pods, spent e-cigarette capsules or replaceable pods, pose the most significant potential environmental burden5.[37] Vaping pods are an example of plastic waste because they are not biodegradable and are poorly recyclable.[37] Also, they contain similar waste components as reusable e-cigarettes but are used for a shorter time before being discarded.[37]

Components like batteries and replaceable capsules containing concentrated nicotine residues can leach pollutants into water, air, and soil.[37] A particularly serious threat of environmental pollution is the littering of e-liquid containers.[37] They may contain high concentrations of residual nicotine, of known and unknown toxicity, and flavoring additives such as aldehydes.[37]

Therefore, e-cigarettes have different types of waste, including biohazard, plastic, and electronic waste.[37] We contend that the potential waste load from e-cigarettes exceeds that of traditional cigarettes due to the larger amount of components.[37] E-cigarette components like nicotine, lithium-ion batteries, and electronic circuit boards, are considerable forms of biohazard and electronic waste.[37] On the one hand, the biohazard waste (nicotine, lithium-ion batteries) risk arises when e-cigarettes are improperly discarded and when broken components leach heavy metals (e.g. mercury, lead) and release toxic chemicals into the environment, affecting humans and animals.[37] These products can then bioaccumulate in animals and humans, creating health issues.[37] Discarded components like batteries pose a risk of explosion and a risk of fire hazard in waste and recycling facilities.[37]

The Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm conventions are science-based, legally binding global treaties aimed at protecting human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and wastes.[37] However, non-compliance is common as the global transport of waste continues to expand.[37] Most e-waste from Western countries is shipped to developing countries, shifting the dangers and pollution-related risks to settings that are often least able to adequately address and mitigate them.[37] This rich-to-poor country shift transfers risk and harm whilst further exacerbating global health inequities.[37]

Recycling initiatives

The waste management company Veolia has started a vape recycling and collection service in the UK in 2023 for retailers.[41]

Regulatory oversight

In the US, e-cigarettes originally were to be included as drug-delivery devices under the US Food and Drug Administration, which would have required much stricter product regulation. However, a 2010 suit overturned this designation.[3] The 2016 US FDA Deeming Rule aimed to place e-cigarettes under a 2007 regulatory cut-off which would require extensive testing of e-cigarettes if they wished to remain on the market.[3] As the deadline for this requirement has been postponed from 2018 to 2022, e-cigarette manufactures are free to produce and sell devices with minimal oversight by health or environmental regulatory institutions.[3]

In the UK, while e-cigarettes disposal and reclamation must adhere to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations, requiring companies to receive and process electronic waste, the arduous process of sending these products back to manufactures and having to pack and pay for postage to responsibly return these products likely limits the effectiveness of such consumer-side responsibility to unknown efficacy.[3]

Proposed regulatory initiatives

A 2023 review states that biohazard and electronic waste should not be discarded in regular trash and instead should be disposed of in specific facilities.[37] E-cigarette environmental impacts can be prevented with improved regulation of their production, use, and disposal.[37] For example, the gradual elimination of disposable e-cigarettes in favor of reusable e-cigarettes and proper recycling and waste management could reduce environmental damage.[37]

Positions of professional organizations

Lorna Slater, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity said in 2023: "that single use vapes have become a big problem - for our environment, local communities and young people. I will take action and will engage with those affected, including young people, over the coming months, with a view to setting out a way forward in the Autumn."[38]

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland said in 2023: "Any form of littering is unacceptable – it damages the environment, economy, and is a blight on the areas where we live, work, and socialise. Single use vapes are made up of components which, unless disposed of safely and responsibly, can last on our planet for years and years. And the sight of them, discarded on our streets, is becoming far too common."[38]

Proposed ban on disposable e-cigarettes

In 2023, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK insisted on a ban on non-reusable vape products.[42] They stated they "are not a risk-free product and can be just as addictive, if not more so than traditional cigarettes".[42] They also stated that the "serious environmental impact of disposable e-cigarettes" should not be disregarded.[42]

Councils in England and Wales are pushing for a 2024 ban on single use vapes due to environmental and health risks, as 1.3 million are thrown away weekly.[43] Recycling challenges, waste issues, and fire hazards are cited.[43] Concerns about youth vaping are also raised.[43] The UK Vaping Industry Association defends disposables as quitting aids but warns of potential black market products if banned.[43]

Lack of regulation and independent third-party oversight

Lack of standard reporting measures and independent third-party oversight

The impacts of tobacco manufacturing on ecosystems, humans, and animals are difficult to quantify.[3] Under the guise of proprietary information, often rationalized to prevent counterfeit manufacturing, tobacco industry manufacturing processes are closely guarded secrets; this proprietary protection further inhibits research into environmental impacts of the manufacturing process.[3] Another concern with self-reported data is that not all manufacturing plants are considered in these reports.[3] For example, for unknown reasons Imperial Tobacco omits data from their manufacturing facilities in Laos and Turkey, as of 2015.[3] Without including environmental costs into the actual sales price of tobacco products, governments inadvertently subsidize tobacco use and enable the tobacco industry to externalize the environmental costs of their products.[3] Countries such as Brazil and Canada have mandated tobacco manufacturers to disclose information on manufacturing practices, product ingredients, toxic constituents, and toxic emissions to evaluate the environmental impacts of tobacco production in these countries.[3] According to a 2020 review, more stringent compliance is necessary globally, and while accurate disclosure can assist in mitigating obvious violations, this do not always translate into decreased emissions.[3]

Voluntary initiatives, furthermore, can be interpreted in the literature as proactive moves by the industry to stave-off regulation which would require them to adhere to externally wrought environmental standards and practices.[3]

Tobacco company involvement in environmental and social stewardship promotion organizations

While tobacco industry environmental reporting remains fragmentary, previous industry involvement in the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) has revealed finer-grained environmental impact data than their sustainability reports or annual reports.[3] Thus, industry involvement in these organizations has motivated them to disclose more data regarding their real environmental harms, giving environmental scientists and industrial ecologists some data for analysis.[3] At the same time, involvement in the UNGC and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) lent a veneer of respectability and credibility that allows the industry to be seen more as “partners” in public health and environmental sustainability than their deserved reputation as sullying both.[3] In 2017, PMI, for example, praised:

"We work on the UN Global Compact and have published our first communication on progress to the United Nations Global Compact, reporting comprehensively on our sustainability practices across human rights, labor rights, environment and anticorruption.… We are also part of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the WeMeanBusiness coalition, and since participating in the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, we have continued to engage externally regarding our commitments on climate change adaptation and water, including our support for the Paris Agreement."'[3]

Such credentials sound impressive, and constitute corporate social responsibility virtue signaling.[3] Therefore, including tobacco companies into organizations such as the UNGC, the UNFCCC or CDP may dilute the designation or brand of the conferring organization, while giving a false sense of achievement to the company, that it can then parade to the public.[3] As of October 15, 2017, however, as part of an integrity review, the UN Global Compact no longer allows tobacco companies to be part of the initiative, and thus PMI and other tobacco companies can no longer claim their mantle of support.[3] Whether other organizations follow suit, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, remains to be seen.[3] Additionally, the cost of false credibility must be weighed against the detail of reporting.[3] If these business recognition organizations extract more accurate and precise data from the companies—which can be debated—then they certainly have some merit, despite their social and political enablement.[3] Instead of trading data for legitimacy, governments could mandate the industry to disclose third-party verified data, setting goals to reduce environmental harms.[3]

Ecological modernization and greenwashing

One important consideration is the overall sustainability of the tobacco industry in general.[3] A 2004 World Health Organization report indicates that corporate responsibility for tobacco firms is an "inherent contradiction".[3] Profiting from tobacco is incompatible with corporate responsibility.[44] The tobacco industry is engaging in greenwashing tactics to conceal their devastating impacts that they are causing to the environment.[5] According to a 2022 World Health Organization report, the tobacco industry attempts to "shift the responsibility for waste mitigation downstream to jurisdictions, communities and voluntary groups."[5] The tobacco industry tries to portray their industry and products as being sustainable and environmentally friendly.[5]

An example of attempts to describe cigarettes as 'natural' and 'organic' is the case of the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, which produces Natural American Spirit cigarettes.[45] In early 2017, the company was required to remove the terms 'additive-free' and 'natural' from its marketing materials by the US FDA.[45] However, the producer is still able to retain the use of the word 'Natural' in its brand name.[45] In addition, the company is still able to use the term 'organic' in its marketing, as well as implying the 'healthy' nature of its product through the use of its ingredients list, viz.[45] 'Tobacco Ingredients: Tobacco and Water'.[45] Natural American Spirit grew consistently in market share since 2002 and managed to maintain its position as a "real" product with "simple" ingredients, likely playing a part in its 97.0% overall market share growth between 2014 and 2019.[46] The brand's menthol styles too experienced a similar increase of 88.3%.[46] Winston had used "additive-free" as part of its infamous "no-bull" advertising campaign for at least a decade prior to its 2015 acquisition by ITG Brands.[46] The declining brand subsequently underwent a substantial rebranding effort that included an image refresh, which included "naturally smooth" on its packaging, and a variety of promotions including coupons and sweepstakes.[46] Initially, Winston discontinued the practice of using natural descriptors in its advertising after the 2017 FDA agreement, although "naturally smooth" remained on the pack.[46] Through its agreements with Natural American Spirit and Winston, the US FDA has inadvertently allowed brands to continue to build on a legacy of years of "natural" descriptors and to skirt US FDA regulations through the use of words that have a known halo of reduced harm.[46] It is well known that consumers of tobacco products continually underestimate the harms due to combustion and overestimate the harms of additives, a fact taken advantage of by Natural American Spirit, Winston, and other cigarette brands in the "natural" category such as Nat's and Manitou, all of which currently use "tobacco and water" in their advertising.[46] The growth of cigarette brands that use comparable marketing approaches to Natural American Spirit is an area of concern.[47]

While the issue of increasing efficiency of manufacturing and transport processes to decrease the ecological harms by the industry is real, it cannot be ignored that industrial tobacco manufacturing is a polluting process producing a hazardous product with adverse environmental impacts and justice concerns.[3] Manufactures have been aware that consumer perceptions of their manufacturing processes have been scrutinized, and are trying to allay such concerns.[3] For example, BAT (Canada) created biodegradable packaging and more ecological manufacturing practices as selling points for their popular brand of cigarettes; others, such as RJ Reynolds have emphasized investments in “green transport”.[3]

Although corporate social responsibility reports highlight sustainability initiatives by the tobacco companies, actual environmental impacts of manufacturing and transport remain a low priority for tobacco companies, and a low priority to date for tobacco control advocates.[3] However, the inclusion of the WHO FCTC in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the WHO FCTC Conference of the Parties' decision on improving the understanding of the environmental impact of tobacco indicates that these issues will gain higher visibility and priority.[3]

Some tobacco companies advertise buying carbon offsets for portions of their emissions, and increasingly show interest in the money-saving aspects of reducing their energy footprint and increasing their efficiency, as of 2017.[3] At the same time, it appears that carbon credits for factories in the EU are taken advantage of when they are convenient to the businesses (i.e., low cost), but are not maintained in other markets.[3] PMI also noted in 2017 that “Regulations requiring carbon labelling on products could impact PMI for both conventional cigarettes and our Reduced-Risk Products (RRPs) [such as e-cigarettes], which may include electronic components”.[3] They note that the impact of carbon labelling on their different (conventional versus electronic) tobacco products “could also be an opportunity for PMI,” if they are able to differentiate themselves with low-carbon products vis-à-vis their competitors.[3]

Regulation standards

Regulation of tobacco remains weak in many countries, including leading economies such as China and the US.[45] In such loosely regulated environments, the potential for the adoption of ecological and social/equity-based marketing is obvious.[45] In countries with stricter legislation there is no room for complacency.[45] The tobacco industry is well known for its ingenious marketing techniques and its hydra-like ability to respond aggressively to attempts to rein in and control its activities.[45] According to a 2018 article, it is imperative, therefore, that legislation is introduced to prevent exploitation of loopholes.[45]

Regulation versus voluntary corporate social responsibility

Rather than exhibiting authentic corporate responsibility, tobacco company manufacturing activities comprise a hodge-podge of voluntary measures aimed at staving-off regulation.[3] The tobacco industry is known for moving from countries to avoid facing the consequences of their activities, including environmental harms.[3] In 2013, after neighborhood leaders near the BAT Ugandan plant complained of fouled air, and the Parliament moved to draft a law more strictly regulating the production and sale of tobacco in the country, BAT closed their Ugandan plant and moved these facilities to Kenya.[3] When citizens petition for better business or environmental practices, tobacco companies (and other polluting industries) routinely uproot their operations and take them where civil society has less political influence and where fewer regulatory controls on manufacturing exist.[3] Such actions undermine the plausibility that the greening of the tobacco industry springs from altruistic or environmental concerns, rather than public pressure, preempting government regulation, and cost-saving measures.[3]

At the same time that tobacco companies sometimes evade regulation in regions overlooked by global public health environmental advocacy, tobacco companies respond to public outcry and pressure orchestrated in developed countries.[3] In countries where environmental sustainability is an important political agenda item, tobacco companies prioritize ecological modernization—the process of rationalizing production to save money while adopting greener technologies (Hajer 1996).[3] In countries with less oversight, such actions are absent.[3] Holding the tobacco industry accountable everywhere for the environmental justice externalities of the manufacturing and transport of tobacco, measurable by a variety of environmental indicators, is crucial to achieve continued reductions in tobacco companies' ecological footprint and a fair assessment of the product's true cost.[3]

Voluntary life-cycle assessments versus mandatory extended producer responsibility

Extended producer responsibility programs and legislation could require the tobacco industry to pay for take-back programs and incentives that help to keep tobacco product waste out of the environment.[3] Such programs would be managed by government agencies and other non-profit organizations, carried out independently from the tobacco industry, and could promote awareness campaigns regarding the human and environmental toxicity of tobacco product waste.[3]

To preempt regulation, PMI has begun investigating in 2017 the efficacy of life-cycle assessments, which might sidestep pressure for third-party analysis and interventions.[3] This strategy of preempting policy intervention through undertaking voluntary reporting and self-censure has been used previously by the industry.[3] PMI's performance of life-cycle assessments may indicate their awareness that life-cycle assessments are used for extended producer responsibility, and could be used to preempt extended producer responsibility regulation.[3] Extended producer responsibility for the environmental costs of tobacco has been proposed by the European Union Commission in 2021 as a potential solution to the tobacco epidemic:

"One very straightforward solution which the consulting group suggested was to calculate the extra cost of smoking—hospital admissions, days lost to work, litter clean up and so on—and then to charge this to the tobacco companies on a pro rata basis according to market share. Once a year, Philip Morris et al. would get a bill for their share of billions of Euros that these externalities comprise."[3]

According to 2020 review, there is no reason why such an extended producer responsibility framework could not be applied to the harms to the environment.[3] Especially for "luxury emissions", as tobacco products uncontroversially are, these emissions should be taxed according to their total harms, a 2020 review states.[3]

Limited tobacco manufacturing data

The available data as of 2020 is limited to partial reporting by the tobacco companies.[3] The opacity of self-report data regarding the actual environmental input and output of tobacco manufacturing serves as a major barrier to objectively evaluating the true environmental costs of tobacco production.[3] Missing data, inconsistency of reporting across companies, uneven reporting on production intensity, and problems of transparency and reliability remain.[3] The contrasting metrics different companies and even the same company in different years use in self-reporting (i.e., liters versus gallons), hinder comparative evaluation of resource use and effluence between companies.[3] Also challenging, is that definitions of manufacturing intensity are not standardized.[3] Some companies report efficiency or intensity per million cigarettes produced, while others adopt measures per million dollars/pounds in revenue, providing no common unit for analysis, complicating comparisons across companies.[3]

Because the environmental impacts of tobacco manufacturing are not independently regulated and monitored, little has been reported outside of the industry’s own analyses.[3] Without a stable, historical, or uniform baseline, global projections can only be extrapolated from existing industry data.[3] Additionally, company-wide self-reported data from China's National Tobacco Company, if publicly available, were not locatable by us, even by native language research assistants.[3] At best, we can assume that a company as large as China's National Tobacco Company is no less polluting, inferring from other Chinese manufacturing processes.[3] The result is that the estimates made here through extrapolation likely severely underestimate the real environmental costs of global tobacco manufacturing.[3]

The focus of this analysis was mainly cigarette manufacturing.[3] While cigarettes still comprise almost 90% of all tobacco sales globally (except for South Asia), other tobacco products, especially e-cigarettes, also weigh heavily on the environment.[3]

Unclear tobacco manufacturing data

The actual environmental impact of tobacco manufacturing remains unknown.[3] Publically available data are selectively self-reported by the tobacco industry, and measured through accounting and consulting firms that have a direct interest in maintaining positive relationships with the tobacco companies funding them.[3] As such, reporting may be opportunistic both in the scope of data reported and presentation, highlighting sustainability success while omitting data on environmental damages or increased emissions due to manufacturing that do not hew to the desired progressive narrative arc of reducing ecological externalities.[3] This piecemeal reporting—rife in corporate social responsibility reports across industries, but especially trenchant for an industry with decades of documented manipulation of public opinion and science—raises serious doubts regarding the tobacco companies' commitments to reducing the environmental consequences of tobacco manufacturing.[3]

As the 2017 World Health Organization report on the environmental impact of tobacco concludes, "the adage ‘there is no such thing as a safe cigarette' could be extended to assert that there is no such thing as an environmentally neutral tobacco industry".[3] Especially, if these companies adhered to Trucost accounting which incorporates environmental externalities (water use, air pollution, land degradation, etc.), tobacco would not be a profitable industry.[3] Yet, until the tobacco industry is required to internalize its social and environmental harms, citizens, governments, future generations, and the Earth is subsidizing the profits these companies reap.[3] While for some products this trade-off may be judged acceptable in exchange for the goods an industry provides to society, tobacco provides no such social good, and deserves a utility calculus accounting for all of its ranging harms, including environmental ones.[3] Parties' implementing the WHO FCTC should consider the environmental impact of tobacco product manufacturing and transport within the context of implementing Article 18 and expand the current focus on tobacco growing to a more comprehensive environmental approach.[3] Countries striving to reach the SDGs by 2030 must incorporate the environmental harms of tobacco as part of their strategies to reach these goals, adopting regulations mandating extended producer responsibility.[3]

World No Tobacco Day

Since 1988, the World Health Organization has used World No Tobacco Day to highlight the harmful effects of cigarettes and other tobacco products on a person’s overall health.[48] The World No Tobacco Day takes place annually on May 31.[32] The year of 2022, the World Health Organization focused their campaign on the dangers of tobacco on the environment.[32] The campaign also focused on bringing to light the tobacco industry's exploits to greenwash its image and products by promoting what they do as being safe for the environment.[49] On World No Tobacco Day in 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised awareness of the devastating environmental impact caused by manufacturing tobacco, especially in low- to middle-income countries.[50]

International Coastal Cleanup

A volunteer, working with Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, cleaning up marine debris
A volunteer, working with Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, cleaning up marine debris

From 1990 to 1997, cigarette butts were the top item retrieved annually by the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup event.[21] In 1997, cigarette butts represented 19.1% of everything they collected.[21] The top ten marine debris items collected by the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup in 2012 was, from most to least, cigarettes/cigarette filters, food wrappers/containers, beverage bottles (plastic), bags (plastic), caps and lids, cups, plates, forks, knives, and spoons, straws and stirrers, beverage bottles (glass), beverage cans, and bags (paper).[15]

Public perception

Tobacco product waste is unlikely to be thought of as a toxic waste product by smokers, non-smokers, manufacturers, or communities.[15] Further, it has not yet been considered as such by state or local environmental protection agencies.[15] Nonetheless, the numerous chemicals found in cigarette tobacco and generated when the tobacco burns are likely to be harmful to the environment, including pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides that are used in the agricultural production of tobacco products.[15]

In fact, many of the chemicals found in tobacco products are included in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory Program.[15] Chemicals covered by the Toxic Release Inventory are those that cause one or more of the following: cancer or other chronic human health effects, significant adverse acute human health effects, or significant adverse environmental effects.[15]

See also


  • "Tobacco: poisoning our planet". World Health Organization. 29 May 2022. pp. 1–17.


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Further reading

External links