Each year, the World Health Organisation marks 31 May as World No Tobacco Day to increase awareness about the disastrous effects of smoking and chewing tobacco. According to statistics, an average of 7 million people die each year from consuming the product in some form or the other.
This year, the UN organisation has selected "Tobacco – a threat to development" as the theme for 2017 in order to confront the global tobacco crisis, which affects not the just health of users but also the environment.
Cigarettes, in particular, are responsible for much more damage to our world, long after they are stubbed off. According to research supported by the University of California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program IDEA Grant and published in BMJ Journals in 2011, toxicity of cigarette stubs, and their chemical components pose a potential ecological threat to oceans and the aquatic life that call these waters home.
Approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide each year, and a large portion of them find their way into the ocean. These filters contain large numbers of chemicals like arsenic, lead, nicotine and ethyl phenol which turn the water poisonous over time. In one series of tests done by the researchers, the toxic leachate, much of which is carcinogenic, killed half of all the marine and freshwater fish exposed to it.
While these cigarette filters pose a major threat, they are not the only ones linked to tobacco. Plastic from cigarette packaging and lighters, if consumed by marine animals, can lead to choking.
An article by Tobacco Control suggests interventions that governments and communities can make to curb environmental pollution from tobacco and products associated with it.
"The plastic (cellulose acetate) cigarette filter could be banned to reduce a huge source of unsightly, non-biodegradable plastic waste," the article suggests.
"Prohibitions on smoking in outdoor public places, including parks, beaches and even outdoor urban areas will prevent some butt waste flowing into our aquatic environments."