Global tobacco, nicotine and vaping levels are indeed concerning with just their impact to health alone. But they also have an impact on our surrounding natural environment.
In 2020 22.3% of the global population used tobacco containing nicotine, 36.7% of all men and 7.8% of the world’s women. Over 68 million people are thought to vape too, although this is only an estimate and we don't actually know how many people are vaping right now.
Despite the claims that vaping is the better, more eco-friendly alternative to cigarette smoking, the amount of collected waste is proving to be less convincing. Both the traditional cigarette and its vape or e-cigarette component contain large amounts of plastic in the casing or the filters used. The actual nicotine itself is a toxic enough substance, in relatively small doses, for both humans and animals. In fact, many millions of disposable vapes, which contain batteries and heavy metals, are sold per month in the around the world — much of which end up in landfills. This is also brought on, in part, due to the confusion around vaping product usage, with 49% of people unsure how to recycle their vape products.
Nicotine has even proven to lead to genetic damage in animal life. In a paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, studies were conducted on two separate species of songbirds, known to use, among other things, cigarette butts in the construction of their nests. Tests on these birds revealed genetic damage, particularly when plastic filters were detected in the nests.
Currently, there is very little in the way of guidelines surrounding the recycling and use of cigarettes, particular vapes, which technically count as both tobacco and e-waste. While the amount of tobacco leaching into the environment is hard to judge, the effects of these poisons, and their plastic counterparts, are undoubtedly a significant problem.
Sources: WHO, Straight, npr, healthy.ucdavis, vapesaretrash, Earthly Education
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.