Commercial Tobacco Pollution

Commercial tobacco’s impacts on the environment are just as devastating as its well-documented impacts on public health. Growing and manufacturing tobacco for commercial tobacco products causes significant deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem destruction, water pollution, air pollution, and the creation and discharge of toxic substances. At the same time, the industry contributes to the poisoning of farm workers, including child laborers, both by pesticides and nicotine sickness.

Cigarette butts are the most-littered object in the world and the item most often found in beach cleanups globally. Butts contribute nonbiodegradable plastic, nicotine, heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxic substances to land and marine environments, down to the bottom of the oceans. New products like e-cigarettes create new, additional problems and impacts, from mining of rare earth metals and fossil fuels, to the mass-production of acutely toxic hazardous waste in the form of liquid nicotine. Electronic devices integral to new tobacco products are almost all unrecyclable, and are made so shoddily that they are a significant cause of battery explosions and fires, some of which have caused millions of dollars in damage and have taken human life. Moreover, smoldering cigarettes continue to be one of the leading causes of residence fires around the world.

All levels of commercial tobacco control—from the inter-governmental World Health Organization arena to local governments in rural America—have significant, and largely unused, powers to regulate and prohibit the environmental damage from this industry. This page provides research on the problems of tobacco industry pollution and the suite of options and considerations for communities and policymakers when drafting or implementing laws to control or eliminate the pollution caused by this industry.


Featured resources are below. Other relevant resources in right sidebar (desktop/tablet), or end of page (mobile).


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Commercial Tobacco, Health, and the Environment (2019)

Overview of each major stage in the commercial tobacco lifecycle and the detrimental effects this product has on the environment.

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Disposing of E-Cigarette Waste: FAQ for Schools and Others (2019)

This publication provides a brief summary of considerations for schools, airports, courts, and other institutions subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) when dealing with how to handle and dispose of mounting piles of e-cigarette hazardous waste.

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Taking on Tobacco Industry Pollution - Webinar (2019)

Overview of the environmental issues related to tobacco farming, manufacturing, use, and disposal and then discuss a variety of policy solutions available to state and local governments.