Keeping World Environment Day (June 05) as the backdrop, the newly formed ‘Coalition Against Tobacco’ wrote to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighting the environmental dangers and degradations at multiple levels due to the activities of production and processing of tobacco.
The ‘Coalition Against Tobacco’ is a representative body formed by the collaboration of more than 40 NGOs and many eminent citizens. It has initiated an active campaign for mass education and awareness of the ill-effects of tobacco consumption.
Keeping with its pro-active stance of nipping the trouble of tobacco in the bud, the Coalition has now written an open letter to the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on the occasion of World Environment Day. The letter elucidates clearly and concisely the negative environmental impacts of tobacco cultivation and processing.
In the submissions made before the PM, the letter states that cigarette and bidi butts are concentrated toxic and non-biodegradable waste, which are heavy contaminants, whether they accumulate in landfills or get washed away into water bodies. Apart from polluting air, they also are a potential fire hazard.
Commenting on the letter written to the PM, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi an active member of the Coaliation said “tobacco cultivation leads to deforestation, soil depletion, loss of nutrients and soil degradation by excessive agrochemical usage. Given that tobacco is a cash crop, farmers are lured by the immediate financial gain and risk all the above dangers to their land.”
Tobacco cultivation needs soil with high levels of fertility, which again results in clearing of land and getting new land under cultivation, prompted by the high financial returns. It is estimated that four lakh hectares suffer deforestation every year on account of this cultivation, which is the size of New Delhi.
What is also worrisome is the environmental cost of curing (processing) tobacco. The process needs huge amounts of fuel wood, which again causes deforestation, and consequential issues like air pollution, soil erosion, degradation, loss of organic matter. The option of fuel wood is straw and crop residue, which has similar issues. The industry estimates, on a conservative basis, that 8 kg of wood is required for curing each kg of tobacco, which means that this industry burns 24 lakh kg of wood every year just for this purpose.
The other use of wood is in the cigarette paper, and in packing material. A cigarette manufacturing machine uses four miles of paper each hour in rolling and packaging cigarettes. As per this calculation, it is estimated that every 300 cigarettes represent one hacked tree.
Cigarette and bidi butts, being non-biodegradable, pollute air, water and land through their presence and contribute to the danger of fires breaking out.
Tobacco cultivation ranks high on the hazards of deforestation, soil quality depletion and degradation.
Curing (processing) of tobacco needs high quantities of firewood, or organic combustible matter. This again enhances air pollution, carbon emissions and destruction of trees. Cigarette production and packaging is another catalyst of deforestation.
Commenting on the dangers to the environment posed by tobacco curing Dr R A Badwe, Director Tata Memorial Center, Mumbai said “ That it is, by itself, a significant source of carbon-dioxide emissions and air pollution. The 2010 Indian cigarette production figure of 10 billion units translates, at a conservative estimate, into 6,750 tonnes of CO2. This again does not consider any side-effect impacts, like historical emission and mitigation ability.”
“The World Environment Day is an excellent mechanism to raise awareness and socio-political momentum about enervating factors like ozone depletion, carbon emission, deforestation and desertification, toxic chemicals and global warming. In fact, it is well-known that the World Bank has, since 1991, refused to invest or extend loans to projects involved in tobacco production, processing and marketing.” said Mr Sanjay Seth, Sambandh Health Foundation, Gurugram
The Coalition has highlighted these dangers to the environment at a significant juncture, where recently 195 nations have put their seal of approval and commitment on the historic Paris Agreement which mandates them to enhance implementation efforts to cut down on emissions. The risk – from rising oceans and depleting glaciers – are too well-known and the Paris Agreement reiterated the risk to farmers, rivers and indeed civilization as we know it.