Environmental Impact on Tobacco Agriculture and Manufacture

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The term externality is used mostly when explicitly referring to effects or costs of the behavior of a consumers behavior. The consumer may not bear the impact as they are not included in the price of the goods. An example is cigarette smoking. Its externality is its economic cost that relates to the medical problems it causes to non-users, that is, the government and the families of the users. Its environmental externalities include deforestation. It results from the production of tobacco, the use of pesticides in the cultivation of tobacco and in some cases it is attributed to the fires that are caused by users who drop lit cigars carelessly causing forest fires. All these externalities bear an enormous effect on the costs associated with smoking and calls for the need to be addressed by both the government and private sectors.

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Tobacco and deforestation

According to Geist (1999), recent practices of tobacco farming have not only contributed to the loss of vegetation, but it has also led to sudden climatic changes. Trees have been felled to expand or create land to grow tobacco. The practice has also been utilized especially in the provision of fuel to dry tobacco leaves. Studies have shown that large chunks of lands of up to 200,000 hectares are cleared each year to create space for the cultivation of the tobacco plant. This has resulted in the loss of trees which as we know provide anchorage to their roots, leaving soil prone to erosion. In the long run, crops do not grow well because of reduced fertility in the soil. Deforestation also affects climate change by increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This it does by preventing recycling of water, triggering severe flooding, and depletion of aquifers and extinction of indigenous plant species.

Use of agrochemicals in tobacco farming

The vulnerability of tobacco to pests and diseases means that they require large quantities of chemicals. These compounds include growth regulators and pesticides, which are often applied during the different stages of growth of the plant. Chemical fertilizers are also used to boost the soil fertility and, in turn, improve the crops yield. These chemicals may at times find their way into drinking water sources as a result of run-off from tobacco growing areas. Tobacco plants have also been found to deplete soil nutrients by leaching nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium more than any other crop. Other agricultural practices such as topping and de-suckering deplete soil nutrients as they are designed to increase the quantity of nicotine and leaf yields in the tobacco plant (Wendner, n.d.).

Manufacturing, Consumption, and Disposal of Tobacco

The processes involved in the manufacture of tobacco produces a substantial amount of waste. In addition to carbon dioxide generated during cigarette production, other environmental pollutants are created. The trillions of cigarettes smoked over the past century contribute to waste in form of the empty packs, in, cellophane, foil and glue (Novotny & Zhao, 1999). Cigarette butts are among the litter found in international beach clean-ups. Cigarettes, therefore, pose a serious litter disposal problem. They are considered biodegradable since they are made up of cellulose. Also, cigarette butts are said to contain benzene, nicotine, cadmium and dozens of other unknown poisons.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Environmental groups and governments need to pay more attention to the environmental impacts of cigarette products and production as a whole. The long-lasting effects of the non-biodegradable cigarette butts mean that proper disposal measures need to be put in place. Alternatively, laws that prohibit littering can be enforced; about cigarette butts. The government could also impose additional taxes on cigarette products to fund environmental waste clean-up processes. Manufacturing companies have a bigger role to play especially in educating consumers of their responsibility to the environment or even better, reducing packaging waste and producing biodegradable filters (Lecours, Almeida, Abdallah & Novotny, 2012).


Geist, H. (1999). Global assessment of deforestation related to tobacco farming. Tobacco Control, 8(1), 18-28. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tc.8.1.18

Lecours, N., Almeida, G., Abdallah, J., & Novotny, T. (2012). Environmental health impacts of tobacco farming: a review of the literature. Tobacco Control, 21(2), 191-196. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050318

Novotny, T., & Zhao, F. (1999). Consumption and production waste: another externality of tobacco use. Tobacco Control, 8(1), 75-80. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tc.8.1.75

Wendner, R. Ramsey, Pigou, and a Consumption Externality. SSRN Electronic Journal. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1569471

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