Why the New Stricter Cigarette Laws Coming to the US are Good for the Environment


Photo via TVgasm

The US Senate just passed a law that will impose way stricter regulations on smoking and the tobacco industry—it's expected to pass the House, and Obama has said he'll sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk. And even though smoking is seen first and foremost a health issue—no one need be reminded of the catastrophic effects of the habit—it has a disastrous effect on the environment as well. Here's how the new smoking laws could provide some serious relief to US ecosystems. The new law, known as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, would allow the FDA to set standards that reduce nicotine content and determine which chemicals are allowed into cigarettes. It would also clamp down on cigarette marketing campaigns, forcing all ads to be done in text-only black and white printing, and will force tobacco companies to place graphic warning signs on their packaging. Finally, flavored cigarettes will be abolished, and terms like "light" and "low tar" will be illegal to use.

Oh yeah, and the costs of imposing all of the new initiatives will be absorbed by the tobacco companies, which would likely lead to a rise in prices, too.

All this would lead to a projected drop in youth smoking by 11% and adult smoking by 2%, which is big news, considering that some 20% of the 300 million or so Americans smoke. Which means the number of American smokers could fall from the current level of around 60 million to as low as around 52 million over the next ten years. This will lead to a massive drop in cigarette packing waste, and butt debris.

This is good news for oh so many reasons. Here are few:

Strict Smoking Laws Are Good Environmental News

  • Cigarette butts are one of the most common kinds of litter—and they're not harmless pieces of cotton as many once believed: in truth, they contain chemicals that can be toxic to soil and wildlife. A decrease in the number of smokers would obviously curb the amount of butt waste.

  • A study in San Diego revealed that cigarette butts are poisonous to fish—the fewer that get tossed on beaches or end up in lakes, the better.

  • In fact, cigarette materials, along with plastic, account for half of the marine waste in the world's oceans. Even though the US isn't a prime contributor on this front (Southeast Asia and South America are worse), the law will still help keep butts and packaging out of oceans where they can damage habitats and cause marine life to choke.

  • Smoking is an indoor air pollutant, and a danger to everyone who shares the space.

  • Cigarettes are a leading cause of deforestation: 600 million trees a year fall in the name of tobacco. A few million less smokers may help to at least slow that number.

  • As fellow TreeHugger Warren MacLean points out, "modern cigarette manufacturing machines use more than six kilometres of paper per hour," which contributes to the above.

  • He also notes that "Tobacco is particularly potassium-hungry, absorbing up to six times as much as other crops, leaving soil in poor condition for essential food and cash crops."

And while a few million less smokers isn't going to immediately alleviate all of these issues, it could relieve a good deal of stress on the environment in the US.

More on Smoking and the Environment
An Ex-Smoker's Guide to Smoking Cessation
Tobacco Candy - Gross, But Greener Than Second-Hand Smoke
Is Quitting Coal Harder Than Quitting Cigarettes?

Tags: Congress | Pollution | Toxins | Waste

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