How Smoking Affects The Environment

Smoking affects the environment in more ways than you may think. Although each individual cigarette is small, millions are manufactured and burned each day, contributing to carbon emissions and leaving behind a non-biodegradable filter for each cigarette smoked.

In addition, thousands of acres of wilderness are destroyed each year by forest fires that are traced back to smoking. And carbon dioxide emissions from cigarette smoke may be comparable to emissions from diesel fuel. Learn the many ways in which smoking affects the environment.

Cigarette Butts and the Environment

In addition to the massive air pollution, smoking affects the environment with the accumulation of cigarette butts. Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate–a non-biodegradable form of plastic that lingers in the environment as long as other plastics do. As these discarded filters slowly disintegrate, they release toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater–often poisoning the wildlife and fish that ingest them by mistake.

The nicotine trapped in 200 cigarette filters can be deadly to a 160-pound human, according to (2010). If 1.2 billion people on earth are smokers and one can estimate an average of two cigarettes per person per day, that’s 2.4 billion filters full of nicotine and countless other toxins–including arsenic, acetone, mercury and lead–flowing into our soil and waterways every 24 hours.

Fire Danger and Smoking

According to a study conducted by the University of California Davis (2000), careless smoking is the number one cause of accidental fire deaths and injuries in the nation, and possibly in the world. While many of these cases involve indoor smoking and improperly extinguished smoking materials, many other cases result from cigarettes discarded outdoors. Forest fire danger from discarded cigarettes is just as prevalent today as it has ever been. Especially during dry seasons and days when fire danger is high, it’s never a good idea to casually discard cigarettes outside.

Smoking and Deforestation

Deforestation is another method by which smoking affects the environment, as wood is involved in several stages of cigarette manufacturing. Wood is used to cure the tobacco, the leaves are wrapped in paper and the cigarettes are boxed in cardboard. A standard cigarette wrapping machine is estimated to use four miles of paper every hour.

Air Pollution: Smoking and Carbon Dioxide

The link between smoking and carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere is small and many other sources of pollution contribute more dangerously to carbon emissions. However, a study conducted by the Tobacco Control Unit of Italy’s National Cancer Institute, and reported by New Scientist (2004) suggests that the particulate pollutants in cigarette smoke may be ten times greater than those found in diesel exhaust. The researchers concluded that cigarette smoke contributes to photochemical smog and ozone levels, especially in highly populated cities.


Cigarette Litter. (2010). Facts. Retrieved October 16, 2010, from

Leistikow, B. N., Martin, D. C. & Milano, E. C. (2000). Fire injuries, disasters and costs from cigarettes and cigarette lights: A global overview. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from

New Scientist. (2004). Cigarettes more polluting than diesel exhaust. Retrieved October 16, 2010, from (2010). Cigarette butts. Retrieved October 16, 2010 from