This Sunday (5th June) is World Environment Day. In 2011, WED is part of the UN’s International Year of Forests. This provides an opportunity to consider the impact tobacco has on forests.

While tobacco’s impact on human health is well known, and people see every day how smoking-related litter spoils Wales’ streets, the devastating effect this addiction has on forests is rarely explored.

Tobacco farming leads to deforestation in two ways:

  1. Forests are cleared, sometimes burned down, to make way for the world’s most valuable non-food crop.
  2. Wood is used to cure the tobacco harvest. There are two ways to cure tobacco: with wood smoke, or with hot air. Unfortunately, wood is often burned to heat the air for flue curing.

Recent estimates are not available, but a 1999 study(1) estimated tobacco production caused 11.3 million hectares of deforestation over a five-year period. That’s about the area of Wales every year. Production of tobacco has, since the 1960s, been moving from North and South America to Africa and Asia, to developing countries where deforestation is a major economic concern.

Smokers can make a difference, though, by quitting. It takes about 2.6kg of wood to dry enough tobacco for one pack of cigarettes(2). A 20-a-day smoker can save 13 times their own bodyweight in timber(3) in a year. And that’s not even accounting for paper or packaging.

Welsh smokers who want to quit (as about two thirds do) are reminded of Quitex -- a new online service that helps smokers plan their quit attempt. It details the pros and cons of different methods and services available to those who want to save their own health, the health of those around them, and the health of forests in tobacco-producing nations.

Notes

(1) Geist, H. (1999). Global assessment of deforestation related to tobacco farming. Tobacco Control, 8:18-28

(2) Muwanga-Bayego, H. (1994). Tobacco growing in Uganda: The environment and women pay the price. Tobacco control. 3:255-256

(3) 943.7kg, assuming standard bodyweight of 70kg