Smoking and the environment

Cigarettes damage the environment in many different ways

  • Land is diverted away from food production for tobacco farming. This land could produce enough food to feed up to 20 million people.
  • 200 million cigarette butts are thrown away every day in the UK. The plastics they contain will take up to 12 years to decompose.
  • Globally, 6 million trees are cut down every year to make way for tobacco production.
  • In Hull, approximately £900,000 a year is spent on cleaning the city centre which includes collecting 1000 tones of litter – an estimated 400 tonnes (40%) of this debris is smoking related.

The life-cycle of a cigarette has a big impact on the environment.


As global production of tobacco increases, particularly in the developing world, land is being cleared to make way for tobacco farming, and now accounts for an estimated 200,000 hectares of woodland being removed each year.

Climate change

Climate change (global warming) is caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide and other gases polluting the atmosphere. The tobacco curing process uses heat to dry the tobacco leaves. In many developing countries this heat is produced by felling and then burning trees, whilst others use gas to fuel burners. Both processes produce large quantities of greenhouse gases. Clearing vegetation removes a natural filter for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, compounding the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

Hazardous waste

Tobacco production uses large amounts of fertiliser, pesticide and herbicides; many of them are highly toxic substances that ultimately find their way into the soil, watercourses and eventually into the food chain. The manufacturing processes for cigarettes and cigars create large quantities of waste. The disposal of tobacco slurries, solvents, oils, paper, wood, plastics, packaging materials and airborne pollution all have long term implications for the environment.

Litter pollution

An estimated 40% of street litter is smoking related – that equates to 400 tonnes of cigarette butts, matchsticks, packaging and other smoking debris collected from Hull city centre every year. 122 tonnes of smoking related litter is dropped every day across the UK.

Marine pollution

Dropped cigarette butts are the most common form of littering, found on 79% of the 7,200 sites surveyed as part of our recent Local Environment Quality Survey of England 2017/18.

Recent research revealed:

52% of smokers who smoke everyday thought putting a cigarette down the drain was acceptable.

39% of smokers, equivalent to 3.6million in the UK, admitted to throwing a cigarette butt down a drain within the past month.

11% of smokers do not consider cigarette butts to be litter. Bin The Butt