by Dr Makini McGuire-Brown
Full disclosure, I have nothing good to say about cigarettes! It is my greatest medical pet peeve. I teach in day 1 of my 4-day “Say no the Drugs” online class for teenagers, that, there is nothing good that comes from smoking, tobacco, or nicotine. And just as a not so fun fact, nicotine in itself is an addictive substance that causes clinical depression, insomnia, and green tobacco sickness which is when farmers handling tobacco leaves absorb nicotine directly into their blood stream from the leaf, causing nausea and vomiting. This year for #worldnotobaccoday the WHO has turned a spotlight on the great environmental toll that the tobacco industry has. So not only is tobacco a risk factor for any disease that you can think of, from lung disease, to heart disease, to strokes, amputations, and cancers, but it is also a threat to our environment which circles right back around to being a health threat to humans and animals! Smokers produce approximately 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide in their lifetime while destroying the very trees that we need to convert carbon dioxide back into oxygen for us to breathe in!
The campaign this year calls for a few calls to action and I want to highlight 2 of them in particular. The first is the call for tobacco farmers to convert to more sustainable crops and the second is for us to expose the tobacco industry for its “greenwashing” of the industry.
Let’s start with the farmers. This is something that requires system change. Many tobacco farmers have no idea how to convert to another crop nor do they have the resources to. They provide for their families by farming a crop that they’ve always known how to farm and they’ve always made money from because the tobacco industry is still a $50 billion industry (although how much the farmer’s get is still a far cry from just.) This means that governments must be responsible for providing alternative pathways for tobacco farmers. Governments must implement programs that provide the education, resources, ongoing support and incentives for tobacco farmers to transition into a crop that is more sustainable not only for the environment but a crop that can sustain their livelihood and family!
The second call I want to highlight, the exposure of tobacco industry greenwashing is a serious one. It amazes me how no matter how bad tobacco is proven to be, money-makers still insist on making it out to be anything but. Tobacco is harmful to humans, animals and plants in every part of its life cycle from production to manufacturing to waste afterwards and yet tobacco companies have begun labelling cigarettes as “natural”. Well by golly, yes a plant is natural, but not what you’re doing with it! If tobacco leaves were used just to sit there and exchange our carbon dioxide for oxygen and never farmed then it would be doing the job it was meant to do here on this earth. From the time tobacco is handled, it becomes dangerous to the farmers handling it, the people smoking or chewing it, the people around the farmers and the people around the smokers. Cleaning up after the fact does not an environmentally product or company make.
The moral of the story is simple. Don’t handle tobacco, don’t smoke tobacco, don’t chew tobacco. #worldnotobaccoday #tobaccoexposed #worldnotobaccoday2022.