EU ban on microplastics eliminates pollution from cigarette butts

Since May 2018, the EU has been trying to tackle the 10 main types of litter found on European beaches, the second most common being cigarette butts. As part of the European strategy for plastics in a circular economy, it introduced a major directive to phase out unnecessary single-use plastics. This directive targets tobacco through the environmental damage caused by cigarette butts, of which 4,500 billion are thrown away each year in the world. EU action is just one good example highlighted on World No Tobacco Day 2022, which this year focuses on the impact of tobacco on our planet’s scarce resources and fragile ecosystems.

We all know that tobacco is harmful. The science is unequivocal on the impacts of smoking on human health. But how bad is tobacco for the environment? This year’s World No Tobacco Day reveals how tobacco poisons the planet as well as people. Throughout their life cycle, tobacco products have dangerous environmental impacts. These range from agricultural production to post-consumer waste, deforestation, desertification, greenhouse gas emissions and plastic pollution. As the European directive on single-use plastic points out, cigarette butts also cause significant damage to the natural environment. They can be particularly harmful on beaches and in waterways: in addition to plastic pollution, chemicals leaking from cigarette butts can be deadly to marine and freshwater fish species.

Cornel Radu-Loghin is Secretary General of the European Network for Tobacco Use and Prevention (ENSP). He explains how the Single Use Plastic Directive has a direct link to tobacco control. “There are now marking and labeling requirements as well as awareness raising measures. The directive also imposes the implementation of extended producer responsibility schemes by 5 January 2023, under which producers of these products should cover at least the costs of awareness-raising measures as well as the costs of cleaning, collection , transport and treatment of waste. »

Holding industry accountable

The tobacco industry is ultimately responsible for the environmental destruction caused by the production of cigarettes. It is estimated that 1.5 billion hectares of mainly tropical forests have been lost since the 1970s to tobacco. It also has a profound impact on soil quality and water resources. Nonetheless, it works hard to launder its reputation for sustainability and eco-friendliness; one way is to promote products as “natural” or “organic” and therefore less harmful to the consumer. However, tobacco products and production are very harmful to people and the planet.

The tobacco industry should also be held liable for tobacco waste and damage resulting from production. Through a range of methods, the tobacco industry tries to shift the blame for tobacco waste onto the consumer, for example through sponsorship and encouragement of portable ashtrays. The tobacco industry should pay for the damage caused and be held responsible for the environmental impact of its products throughout the supply chain.

What can be done?

There are many ways to combat the environmental harms of the tobacco industry. These include interventions such as the introduction of extended producer responsibility schemes, which place the burden of cleanup on the producer, not the consumer. Environmental taxes should also be imposed on the tobacco industry. Ultimately, prevention is great medicine: eradicating tobacco waste requires drastic reductions in tobacco consumption itself. Full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) therefore makes progress towards a future completely free of tobacco, including tobacco waste.

“All EU Member States must take into account the provisions of the WHO FCTC, in particular Article 5.3, when implementing the Single-Use Plastic Directive,” says Cornel Radu -Login. “Otherwise, the tobacco industry will succeed and gain a role in public decision-making through this environmental whitewashing enterprise.”

Organizations such as the ENSP play a crucial role in monitoring this process. “ENSP and other tobacco control organizations at European and national levels will act to critically monitor the activities of governments, industry and other organisations,” Cornel says. “We alert the public when we detect actions that go against the public interest.”

On World No Tobacco Day, Cornel has a reminder for policy makers in the WHO European Region. “Tobacco not only has a negative impact on people’s health; it also endangers the health of the environment. When e-cigarettes and cigarette waste are not disposed of properly, they end up in the environment where they end up polluting water, air, and land with toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and nicotine. residual.

He calls for action, quoting Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “If tobacco was a virus, it would have long been called a pandemic, and the world would mobilize all resources to stop it. But instead, it’s a multi-billion dollar business that profits from death and disease, imposes huge costs on health care systems and takes a heavy economic toll in lost productivity.