The state of the environment is a topic that is finally getting the attention that it deserves. Tobacco cigarettes are one of the most devastating man made products for the environment, causing harm during production, use, and for decades after their lifespan has ended. Vaping has been praised as an all around healthier alternative to combustible cigarettes but what about their effects on the environment? Anti-vaping lobbyists would have us all believe that vaping does the same damage that cigarettes do, but are those accusations warranted? Let’s take a closer look at the environmental impact of cigarettes and vaping and find out which is causing the most harm and if there's anything we can do about it.
The Impact of Combustible Cigarettes on the Environment
Combustible cigarettes have a huge impact on the environment. From toxic waste to deforestation, nearly every aspect of a combustible cigarette's lifespan does some level of damage to the environment. Let’s take a closer look at some of the specific ways cigarettes are damaging to the environment.
Tobacco Cultivation is Extremely Destructive
Tobacco is one of the most widely cultivated crops on the planet, with growth on every continent except Antarctica. Tobacco requires more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than most other commercial crops, which means it not only degrades soil faster than other crops, but that it also requires fertilizers which do their own damage to our water through runoff.
Tobacco growing and curing are both causes of deforestation, soil degradation and environmental disruption. Huge swaths of mostly rain forest are cleared to make room for tobacco cultivation, and more acres are cleared to make room for the curing process, which uses burning wood, another pollutant.
Cigarette Smoke Affects More Than Just the Smoker
We’ve already talked about the 41,000 people killed annually from second hand smoke but did you know that cigarette smoke produces 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide and 5.2 million tons of methane? And that’s just the emissions from smoking cigarettes, without factoring in the emissions released during the production process. Air pollution affects us all, so even if you don’t live with a smoker, your air is being polluted too.
Cigarettes Butts Are Toxic Waste
Big tobacco produces six trillion cigarettes a year, making them one of the biggest plastic polluters in the world. Cigarette butts are made of microplastics, and were created by the tobacco industry to fool smokers into thinking that filters made cigarettes safer. Surprise, surprise, they don’t actually work. Cigarette ‘filters’ filter practically none of the dangerous, toxic or carcinogenic chemicals in cigarettes. Instead, the filters, full of microplastics, end up on the ground, where they do not break down. Instead of breaking down, the microplastics in cigarette butts are typically consumed by animals where they enter the food web that all life on Earth is part of. Marine animals, typically fish, are usually the entry point of microplastics into the environment. Once microplastics enter an ecosystem, because of their small size, it’s impossible to remove them. Today micro plastics, like the ones from the six trillion cigarette butts created each year, are polluting the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
The Impact of Vaping On The Environment
Does Vaping have the same effect on the environment that smoking does? They don’t leave behind cigarette butts or produce smoke, so how could they possibly affect the environment? Let’s take a closer look.
Vapor, Not Smoke
Despite what many who are unfamiliar with vapes may think, the white fog that vapers blow out is not smoke. Despite how big and intimidating some of those clouds are, they don’t contain any of the dangerous, toxic or carcinogenic chemicals that secondhand smoke produces. That means no carbon dioxide or methane being released into the air, which means cleaner air for all of us.
Plastic Waste Is An Issue
Though the vape industry doesn’t leave behind filters or create smoke pollution, vapes do have one aspect to them that can be potentially harmful to the environment. Most vape pens are made of plastic or metal, neither of which break down particularly quickly. This means that old, used up vape pens, particularly disposable vapes, do pose a danger to the environment. When old vapes end up in the trash they release micro plastic into the environment, and with wind and other environmental factors, even if you dispose of your vape properly, it may still leach plastic into the environment. Modified vapes also pose some environmental risk because of the electrical parts that get discarded when you upgrade your vape. Electronic waste is different from toxic waste, but still bad for the environment. Finally, the lithium battery in vapes that heats the coil and allows you to vape, is damaging to the environment. Lithium batteries take obscene amounts of time to break down, and when they end up in the environment it can be devastating for the ecosystem.
Comparing The Cost
When it comes down to it, most human activities are damaging to the environment in some way or another, and we’re relegated to choosing the lesser of two evils. With six trillion cigarettes manufactured a year, nearly 8 million tons of emissions created from smoking cigarettes, and immense deforestation, it's clear that cigarettes have a devastating impact on the environment. Vaping, while still creating some environmental issues on its own, is clearly much less harmful to the environment than combustible cigarettes.
What Can You Do To Help
Safeguarding the environment is everyone's responsibility. If you smoke cigarettes, and have been thinking about switching to vaping, do it sooner than later. The farther you can get from harmful emissions and toxic waste, the better.
If you’re someone who vapes, you can help vapes to be less damaging to the environment too! Always dispose of e-waste properly, at a specified location who can handle that specific type of waste. Opt for refillable systems rather than disposable vapes to help keep microplastics out of the environment, and together we can do our part to help the environment.