The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised the alarm on the extent to which tobacco damages both the environment and human health, calling for steps to make the industry more accountable for the destruction it is causing.
In a new report, “Tobacco: Poisoning our Planet”, WHO highlighted that the industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing and transporting tobacco is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing to global warming.
According to the Director of Health Promotion at WHO, Dr. Ruediger Krech, “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.”
Products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes also add to the build-up of plastic pollution, the organisation said.
Cigarette filters contain micro-plastics and make up the second-highest form of plastic pollution worldwide.
Every year, the tobacco industry costs the world more than eight million human lives, 600 million trees, 200, 000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water and 84 million tonnes of CO2.
The majority of tobacco is grown in low-and-middle-income countries, where water and farmland are often desperately needed to produce food for the region.
Instead, they are being used to grow deadly tobacco plants, while more and more land is being cleared of forests.
Despite tobacco industry marketing, there is no evidence that filters have any proven health benefits.
WHO called on policy-makers to treat cigarette filters, as what they are, single use plastics, and consider banning cigarette filters to protect public health and the environment.
The costs of cleaning up littered tobacco products fall on taxpayers, rather than the industry creating the problem. Each year, this costs China roughly $ 2.6 billion and India roughly $ 766 million.
The cost for Brazil and Germany comes in at over $200 million. Countries like France and Spain and cities like San Francisco, California in the USA had taken a stand. Following the Polluter Pays Principle, they have successfully implemented “extended producer responsibility legislation” which makes the tobacco industry responsible for clearing up the pollution it creates.
WHO urged countries and cities to follow this example, as well as give support to tobacco farmers to switch to sustainable crops, implement strong tobacco taxes (that could also include an environmental tax) and offer support services to help people quit tobacco.
Meanwhile, deaths on the African continent from COVID-19 are expected to fall by nearly 94 per cent in 2022 compared to last year, modelling by WHO has shown.
Last year was the pandemic’s deadliest in Africa, with COVID-19 emerging the seventh major cause of death, just below malaria.
“Our latest analysis suggests that estimated deaths in the African region will shrink to around 60 a day in 2022. Last year, we lost an average of 970 people every day,” WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti told a virtual news conference.
Reuters reported that the gulf in the numbers is due to increased vaccination, improved pandemic response and natural immunity from prior infections, quoting the WHO official.
COVID deaths in Africa have been uneven. Richer countries and southern African nations have had around double the mortality rates of poorer ones in other parts of Africa, partly due to co-morbidities that increase the risk of death, the WHO analysis found.
Around 23,000 deaths are expected by the end of the year, provided current variants and transmission patterns remain the same, according to the analysis.
The findings infer that only one in 71 COVID-19 cases are recorded in Africa and that about one in three deaths have been missed.
Although African countries struggled early in the pandemic to secure COVID vaccines as rich countries hoarded available doses, many are now well-supplied with shots but are having trouble getting them into arms. The reasons include hesitancy and logistics.
As of the end of May, Africa had reported over 11.8 million confirmed COVID cases and more than 250,000 deaths.
“The job is not yet done. Every time we sit back and relax, COVID-19 flares up again. The threat of new variants remains real, and we need to be ready to cope with this ever-present danger,” Moeti told the briefing.
As of 9.30 pm on Sunday, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) 5.188 million samples belonging to Nigerians had been tested since the pandemic started, 256,148 had been confirmed, there were 2,940 active cases, 250, 065 had been discharged while 3,143 Nigerians had died from the disease.