India has lost 1,700 hectares of forest annually between 1962 and 2002 due to the cultivation of tobacco in these areas, said World Health Organisation on Tuesday.
On the eve of ‘World No Tobacco Day’, the global health body said that stamping out its use can help nations reduce large-scale environmental degradation.
China, Brazil and India are the largest tobacco leaf growers, with China accounting for 3.2 million metric tonnes produce.
In its first-ever report, ‘Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview’, WHO said that the impact of tobacco cultivation on forests since the mid-1970s was a “significant cause for concern”.
The global health body said there was evidence of “substantial and largely irreversible” loss of trees and other plant species caused by tobacco farming that make it a particular “threat” to biodiversity.
The report said in the 1970s and 1980s, 69 tobacco growing countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, experienced fuelwood shortages related to tobacco production that accelerated deforestation in those countries.
By the mid-1990s, more than half of the 120 tobacco-growing low and middle-income countries, including India, were experiencing loss of 2,11,000 hectares (ha) of natural wooded areas annually—around 2,124 ha per country.
“In India, 68,000 ha of forests were removed between 1962 and 2002--an average of 1,700 ha annually,” the report said.
It noted that tobacco causes soil erosion as it is usually planted as a single or monocrop, leaving the top soil poorly protected from wind and water.
“Desertification from tobacco cultivation has been observed in numerous countries, including Jordan, India, Cuba, Brazil and various countries of the Miombo zone.
“In India, monocropped tobacco in drylands has been described as the most erosive crop,” the report said.
The global health body highlighted how tobacco threatens the development of nations worldwide while calling on the governments to implement strong tobacco control measures.
These measures include banning marketing and advertising of tobacco, promoting plain packaging of tobacco products, raising excise taxes and making indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free.
Stamping out its use would also help prevent millions of people from falling ill and dying from tobacco-related disease and also combat poverty.
Tobacco use kills more than seven million people every year and costs households and governments over USD 1.4 trillion through healthcare expenditure and lost productivity.
The first-ever WHO report also highlighted the impact of this product on nature which like tobacco smoke emissions contribute thousands of tonnes of human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases to the environment while tobacco waste is the largest type of litter by count globally.
“Tobacco waste contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens.
“Up to 10 billion of the 15 billion cigarettes sold daily are disposed in the environment. Cigarette butts account for 30-40 per cent of all items collected in coastal and urban clean ups,” the report said while highlighting the impact of the product.
It said around 860 million adult smokers live in low and middle income countries, including India, and many studies have shown that in the poorest households, spending on tobacco products often represents more than 10 per cent of total household expenditure which meant less money for food, education and healthcare.
“Tobacco farming stops children from attending school. 10-14 per cent of children from tobacco-growing families miss class because of working in tobacco fields.
“Around 60-70 per cent of tobacco farm workers are women, putting them in close contact with often hazardous chemicals. Tobacco contributes to 16 per cent of all non-communicable diseases (NCDs) deaths,” it said.
WHO said governments collect nearly USD 270 billion in tobacco excise tax revenues each year, but this could increase by over 50 per cent, generating an additional USD 141 billion, simply from raising taxes on cigarettes by just USD 0.80 per pack in all countries.