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How Smoking Causes Pollution

author image Bibi Estlund
Bibi Estlund began writing in 2007. Her work appears on LIVESTRONG.COM and her personal blog, MamaSense. She writes mainly about the environment, breastfeeding and parenting. Estlund previously wrote for the Sustainable Life and Affordable Luxuries blogs on the WorkItMom website. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and her Bachelor of Science in English: linguistics from Truman State University.
How Smoking Causes Pollution
Smoking can affect the environment. Photo Credit: Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

With the passage of so many new smoking bans and other smoking ordinances, there has been a new wave of publicity about the dangers of smoking. You may be aware that smoking is the second leading cause of death in the United States. You may also be aware that smoking harms the people around the smoker as well as the smoker himself. What you may not know is the environmental impact that smoking has. Smoking cigarettes causes pollution in many environmental areas.

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Growing Tobacco

Since tobacco is an exceptionally fragile plant, it needs a large amount of pesticides and herbicides for growth. One example is methyl bromide, a chemical known to enter the atmosphere and deplete the ozone layer, according to the Action on Smoking and Health website. Ground water pollution is one of the main causes of concern for the environment when talking about cigarettes. Many of the pesticides and herbicides used in growing tobacco can leach into the ground water. This can poison the water supply and kill wildlife. One example of these chemicals is Aldicarb. This chemical is highly toxic to humans and animals, and has been found in groundwater in 27 U.S. states. It was licensed for use on tobacco crops in the United States as recently as 2007.


The act of manufacturing cigarettes creates tons of chemical waste each year. The following toxic chemicals are released to the environment during the manufacturing process: ammonia, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, methyl ethyl ketone, nicotine and nicotine salts, nitric acid, phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, and toluene. Smoking contributes to this type of pollution. Without a consumer of the product, there would be no manufacturing.


As with many industries, tobacco is grown in one location, manufactured and processed in another, and finally sold to a consumers in yet other locations. All of this traveling around, usually in trucks that burn fossil fuel, means that smoking just one cigarette results in the release of quite a bit of CO2 into the atmosphere.


Smoking cigarettes releases the carcinogens and other toxins that they contain. This pollutes the air and harms human and animal life.

Cigarette Butts

There are 4.5 trillion filtered cigarettes smoked around the world every year, and all of those cigarette butts end up somewhere. Cigarette butts are technically considered biodegradable. However, because of the small amount of plastic they contain, their breakdown still takes at least 18 months, and even then the plastic particles remain in the environment. In addition, cigarette butts are toxic. The toxins that they contain can leach into the soil and sometimes even make it into the water supply. Studies have shown that cigarette butts are the number one item littering U.S. roads. For example, a 2005 Texas litter study showed that 28 percent of visible litter was made up of cigarettes.

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