Every year on May 31, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) recognizes World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) and the efforts made by many organizations to reduce commercial tobacco use and its devastating harms.
This year’s WNTD theme, Tobacco: Threat to our environment, is an opportunity to raise awareness about how the commercial tobacco industry makes a large profit that harms the health of both the environment and people who become addicted to their deadly products.
“The impact that the tobacco industry has on the environment is devastating,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s medical officer of health. “Every stage of the commercial tobacco cycle, from growing tobacco plants to manufacturing, global distribution, toxic second-hand smoke emissions and litter from commercial tobacco use harms the environment as well as people’s health.”
Each year 3.5 million hectares of land, more than twice the size of Georgian Bay, are destroyed globally to grow commercial tobacco This destruction includes clearcutting of trees, which contributes to a decline in soil quality and the loss of nutrients that are needed to successfully grow other crops. Commercial tobacco products made with harvested tobacco, such as cigarettes, also create waste. Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter in the world, releasing thousands of chemicals into the air, water and soil.
The tobacco industry is also largely responsible for e-cigarette products. Since the legalization of e-cigarettes containing nicotine in 2018, youth and young adult vaping rates have skyrocketed. According to The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health survey, between 2017 and 2019, past year e-cigarette use doubled among Ontario students in Grade 7-12 (from 11 per cent to 23 per cent).
Vaping devices contain plastics, heavy metals and electronic waste, including microchips and batteries that are not biodegradable. Many e-cigarette manufacturers do not provide consumers with instructions on how to safely and properly dispose of devices, accessories and e-cigarette waste, so consumers are left to figure out what to do with their devices and accessories once they are finished using them. As a result, harmful chemicals leach into the ground due to improper disposal.
The environmental damage caused by the tobacco industry is one more reason to quit or support a person you care about in their quit journey. Talk to your healthcare provider or local pharmacist for help to quit smoking or vaping. Resources and support are also available at smdhu.org or by calling Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.