The international body responsible for public health recently warned of the ecological impact of the tobacco industry around the globe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) urged all governments to prohibit tobacco industry greenwashing and to abstain from partnerships with cigarette companies that market their image as environmentally friendly.
According to the WHO, more than 8 million deaths are attributed to tobacco yearly. Moreover, more than 7.2 million of the total mentioned are caused by direct tobacco consumption, while 1.2 million are due to passive smoking. Additionally, more than 80% of 1300 million smokers in the world live in middle or low-income countries. Yet, the universal health problem is not all there is to worry about when discussing cigarettes. Tobacco is also damaging the environment.
In a recent report, the WHO alerts the tobacco industry has a significant impact on the environment and is one of the causes of climate change. For those unfamiliar with the term greenwashing, it alludes to the practices used by industries to market their image or products as environmentally friendly to increase sales and deviate attention away from their ecologically damaging practices. It is worth mentioning that in 2003, the WHO published the “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” regulating tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.
The new report from the World Health Organization and STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog, reveals the mentioned industry has been raising efforts to ameliorate its image by exposing sustainability efforts, therefore incurring greenwashing. However, the mentioned practice is common in several industries. “This kind of activity gives the impression that the tobacco industry is socially and environmentally responsible,” the report says. “Yet this industry is causing an incalculable toll on the health of smokers, non-smokers, and farmers. And not only is tobacco harming humans, but it is also damaging the environment.” The report’s main objective is to encourage governments to prohibit tobacco industry greenwashing and abstain from partnerships with cigarette companies involved in environmental practices that could mislead consumers to believe the industry is an environmental partner.
The report mentions that tobacco companies release 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually to produce 6 billion tonnes of cigarettes that the world demands in one year. For this, 22,000 million cubic meters of water are required. Sometimes they come from countries where water is scarce. Andy Rowell, a research partner in the STOP global tobacco industry watchdog, also stated, “although the industry is making an attempt to say they are becoming more sustainable, even the production of cigarette butts has an impact on the environment.” The tobacco industry has tried to improve its reputation by engaging in green initiatives such as beach clean-ups and financial help for environmental organizations and natural disaster relief.
However, despite the clear evidence of greenwashing in the tobacco industry, governments have failed to take effective action toward its prevention. The WHO has not only urged governments to play their role but has also asked environmental accreditation organizations to stop supporting greenwashing and quit awarding prizes to the tobacco industry. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, recently urged private investors, businesses, and states to do more to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions, launching a new group of experts to help plan a net-zero future.