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The cultivation of tobacco is fraught with great risks for health, society and the environment. More than 90% of the tobacco traded worldwide is grown in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The cultivation of tobacco destroys forests, contaminates the soil and poisons water. This can lead to serious illnesses for those who work there. In addition, tobacco growing is always associated with child labor, hunger and poverty.
The tobacco industry tries to hide such problems. The corporations are increasingly presenting themselves to the outside world as responsible companies that ostensibly take care of the social concerns of tobacco farmers, are committed to combating child labor and campaigning for better environmental conditions. In many cases, however, it is nothing more than high-profile PR projects (public relations) to improve one's own image.
Tobacco cultivation endangers the tropical forest
There are several reasons why large areas of forest are cleared for tobacco and cigarette production. Since the tobacco plant needs a lot of nutrients, the soil is quickly depleted. This is why tobacco farmers always need new cultivation areas and clear the forests for this, e.g. in Tanzania. In order to dry the green tobacco leaves after the harvest, large amounts of firewood are needed, for which a large number of trees are felled. And finally, forests are also cut down for the paper used in cigarette production.
Estimates suggest that 200,000 hectares of forest are cleared for tobacco cultivation worldwide every year become. That is an area the size of the canton of St. Gallen. A good quarter (60,000 ha) of this is used for tobacco cultivation in Tanzania, and another quarter (50,000 ha) in Zimbabwe. Tobacco growing is like that for about 2-4% of global annual deforestation responsible.
The consequences of deforestation are devastating. Currently, the world's forest areas absorb a quarter of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). As a result of deforestation in tobacco-growing countries, important CO2 stores are lost that have a direct impact on the regional climate. The earth's “green lungs” are continuously shrinking, and less and less oxygen is being produced.
Poisoned soils and groundwater
In countries like Tanzania, where 84,000 tons of tobacco are produced annually, there is a dry climate. The intensive use of the soil by the nutrient devouring Tobacco monocultures leaves behind serious damage to the ground. The loss of nutrients, the lowering of the water table and the associated erosion make the land unusable for agriculture.
Tobacco monocultures are susceptible to disease and pest infestation. Large amounts of pesticides are used to keep fungi, weeds, insects and other pests away. Pesticides pose a major threat to the environment. They not only pollute the soil and water, but also endanger the people and animals living there, who are often directly exposed to the toxic substances. In Bangladesh, for example, tobacco cultivation poisons the Matamuhuri River over a length of 80 kilometers.
The chemicals can cause nerve damage and attack the airways. Some substances are also suspected of increasing the risk of cancer and causing deformities in the unborn as well as psychological damage. In Brazil, for example, suicides among tobacco farmers as a result of exposure to pesticides have been observed for many years in the tobacco growing areas. In addition, pesticides and fungicides are sometimes used in developing and emerging countries, which have long been banned in Europe.
Some pesticides also kill beneficial insects or cause disease among them. However, bees and other pollinating insects are essential to growing many crops and they are lost.
Tipping and polluted air
Cigarette buttsare that worldwide most common waste product on the ocean beaches. This is because up to 80% of marine pollution originates from land. 5.8 trillion cigarettes are smoked worldwide every year, three quarters of the butts become Thrown away carelessly. This heap of waste weighs more than 1 million tons and is roughly six times the amount of cheese produced in Switzerland each year.
Cigarette butts are highly toxic. In addition to nicotine, they also contain carcinogenic hydrocarbons and heavy metals that are released into the environment. In children, swallowing butts can cause severe symptoms of intoxication.
With the rain, the toxins also get into the groundwater. One cigarette butt can contaminate around 40 liters of drinking water. If the stumps are disposed of via the toilet, the solids, but not the toxins, can be filtered out by the waterworks. They end up in the fields as sewage sludge, which means that they return to the human food cycle or can be absorbed by wild animals.
Another problem with cigarette smoking is air pollution. An experiment by the Cancer Institute in Milan has revealed that cigarettes are real polluters compared to a modern diesel engine. The scientists used a garage in the Italian Alps, where the air hardly contains any particulate matter. There they let a modern diesel engine idle for 30 minutes. For comparison, three filter cigarettes were then burned in the closed room. The result of the air survey was clear: the cigarette smoke led to a ten-fold higher concentration of fine dust in the garage. Fine dust particles in the air are dangerous because they get very deep into the lungs when they are inhaled.
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