Smoking and second-hand smoke not only cause cancer and other respiratory diseases, but tobacco use also has a negative impact on the environment, both of which place a significant burden on public health and the economy.
“Tobacco is killing our planet. Every stage of cigarette production and use – from cultivation to manufacturing and from selling to smoking and waste contributes significantly to environmental pollution,” said Dr. Olivia Neverras of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Thailand. She was speaking at a hybrid seminar held Last week to celebrate World No Tobacco Day on May 31, which this year highlights the harmful effects of tobacco on the environment.
Smoking costs Thailand more than 350 billion baht annually in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity or about 2.1% of the country’s GDP.
Tobacco is killing the planet through deforestation, extensive water use, pollution and littering, said Associate Professor Nawart Sharwinka from Mahidol University’s School of Public Health.
She added that growing tobacco requires an intensive use of resources. Each year, about 600 million trees are cut down and more than 22 billion liters of water are used globally to make cigarettes. Tobacco cultivation also uses a range of harmful chemicals that affect the health of the farmers involved in the production.
Tobacco production generates approximately 84 million metric tons of carbon dioxide globally each year. According to her, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts, which are the most littered items on the planet, are discarded annually.
Cigarette butts are destroying beaches and poisoning the oceans
The beaches of Thailand that were once pristine were polluted by a large number of cigarette butts. This is likely to affect the tourism industry, which is one of the main sources of income for the country if the problem is left unresolved.
The butt is a common ugly eye on beaches. These tiny but deadly plastic filters can pollute the oceans when they find their way into the sea and kill marine life.
A recent survey on marine debris management by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), which is responsible for protecting Thai coastal resources, found that more than 100,000 cigarette butts are tossed on leading tourist beaches.
“We find more cigarette butts than any other type of waste on our beaches,” DMCR Deputy Director Apichai Ekvanakun said, adding that of the 4.5 trillion butts discarded globally each year, Thailand alone is responsible for 100 million of them.
Apichai noted that cigarette waste is toxic waste. The filters contain toxins and chemicals including nicotine and arsenic, which is used in rat poison, as well as carcinogens that can pollute the oceans when they dissolve and release pollutants..
“Butts are toxic to all living things and small marine life that they come in contact with,” the deputy director said.
He added that cigarette butts are not biodegradable and can remain in the environment for more than two years and up to 12 years.
In response, the department launched a smoke-free and waste-free beach campaign to reduce smoking and dumping of used cigarettes and waste. The authorities have imposed a ban on smoking in public places including beaches.
Apichai said violators will face a maximum fine of 100,000 baht or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.
In the initial phase, the law was implemented on 24 popular holiday beaches in 15 provinces including Bang Saen Beach in Chon Buri, Patong Beach in Phuket and Hua Hin Beach in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
“We should not make our beaches an ashtray. To keep everything clean, beachgoers are kindly requested to smoke in the designated smoking area and extinguish used cigarettes or cigars in the available ashtrays,” adding that the department is looking into extending the anti-smoking ban to other beaches in order to provide A cleaner, safer and healthier environment for beachgoers.
It’s not just Thailand. In California, smoking is also prohibited on all state beaches and in state parks. Barcelona in Spain bans smoking on all its beaches, making it the first country in Europe to do so.
smoking Contaminates The air on the beaches
In addition to cigarette droppings, some Thai beaches are reported to have a high level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
A study of secondhand smoke exposure at two popular beaches in Thailand found that PM 2.5 reached unsafe levels. It was performed by Associate Professor Nipapun Kungskulniti of the Mahidol University School of Public Health and colleagues.
“We wanted to assess levels of secondhand smoke around beach chairs and see how smoking affects air quality. We used instruments to measure airborne pollutants or PM2.5 that are emitted downwind from areas used by beachgoers,” said Nippon.
The study showed that the average levels of fine particulate matter 2.5 on the beaches were at 260 and 504 micrograms per cubic meter. Levels peaked at 716 and 1,335 micrograms per cubic meter in active cigarette users – 27 times above the recommended safety limit.
According to the Pollution Control Administration, the so-called safe air level is 50 micrograms per cubic meter.
“Children were playing on the beach when we collected the data for our study. They can breathe secondhand smoke that can be harmful to them,” the researcher said.
Secondhand smoke from burning tobacco is harmful to health. When people accidentally inhale fumes while sitting or standing next to a smoker outdoors in public places including restaurants, parks, and beaches, it can irritate their eyes, give them headaches, and even feel sick.
Furthermore, exposure to secondhand smoke can increase serious health risks, according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in Thailand. In adults, it is associated with lung problems, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease. In children, it simply makes them cough, sneeze, cause respiratory infections, trigger asthma attacks or make asthma symptoms worse.
Nipapun supports the DMCR’s smoke-free zone regulations, stating that they not only help improve air quality on beaches but also save marine life and even human life.
“Birds, fish and turtles swallow their bottoms thinking it is food. The toxic chemicals they release can harm sea animals and enter the food chain and then affect humans.” Nippon said.
smoking kill us
Smoking kills both smokers and non-smokers. In 2017, more than 70,000 people died in Thailand from lung cancer, emphysema, pneumonia and tuberculosis. Each year, nearly 7,000 non-smokers die of cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory disease from exposure to second-hand smoke, according to the World Health Organization in Thailand.
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco smoke contains about 4,000 chemicals, at least 250 of which are known to be harmful. It also contains carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides, which are greenhouse gases.
More than 2 million smokers in Thailand have high blood pressure or diabetes, according to the latest survey. Smoking, along with high blood pressure or diabetes, is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney deterioration, said Dr Prakit Vathisatogket, president of ASH in Thailand.
He urged smokers who want to quit smoking to get help and advice from a doctor that can increase their chances of quitting this habit forever. He also advised smokers to make their homes and cars smoke-free to help them quit smoking.
“Stop smoking and create a smoke-free home for a healthier, happier family and make the earth green again.” The doctor said.
By Vina Thopkragai With additional reporting by Sukhumaporn Layuk