I thought a nice way of kicking off my blog with MNN would be to write about a pretty big accomplishment of mine: kicking cigarettes! There came a point where the irony of being a smoke stack against smoke stacks became too much. It's been a month and a week since I last touched one and I don't plan to restart the habit. Beside the obvious health reasons that make quitting worthwhile, the environmental reasoning is just as convincing, and both were more than enough motivation to help me along. I'm just going to touch on a few subjects that surprised me.
A major problem arises from the littering and composition of cigarette butts. Some 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are tossed each year. I will admit that I was a tosser of cigarette butts -- this is completely commonplace amongst smokers. Why? Because many are not aware that the filters are made of a cellulose acetate material and not cotton. The material at the filter of the cigarette is not biodegradable, meaning those little “butt-ies” will be around for another 15 years. Additionally, the filters retain nicotine and other chemicals which leak into waterways, and also cause a problem for unsuspecting wildlife that mistake the litter for food.
What really blew my mind in my research was the astounding impact of the tobacco curing process. I was well aware of the pesticide use and soil depletion involved in producing cigarettes, but not on how much wood was needed to make them. The two most wasteful curing processes are fire- and flue-curing. Fire-cured tobacco is hung in large barns where fires of hardwoods are kept on continuous or intermittent low smoulder, which takes between three days and 10 weeks. With flue-curing, flues run from externally fed fire boxes, heat-curing the tobacco without exposing it to smoke and slowly raise the temperature over the course of the curing. Each year, about 20,000 square miles of forest are cut down for use as fuel for curing the tobacco. And in Brazil alone, the wood of 60 million trees is needed to cure, roll and package cigarettes every year.
I was completely ignorant of the large scale deforestation that is the product of my former habits. Although there are reforestation measures taken in lands that produce tobacco, there still is very little economic incentive for those who are in the position to reforest to do so (especially small farmers in poor countries), because it makes so much more economic/survival sense for them to make use of the land in another way. I will touch on those issues in my next blog.