A tobacco-free world: less damage for our health and the environment

Culture and society

A tobacco-free world: less damage for our health and the environment

31 May, 2021

The damage from tobacco is unfortunately well calculable: not only for health (seven million deaths every year in the world, more likeliness to develop severe disease with Covid-19 than non-smokers), but also for the environment.

The cultivation and processing of tobacco consume natural resources that could be used in a more sustainable way, to which are added pesticides, deforestation and pollution also due to cigarette butts.

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World No Tobacco Day is celebrated every May 31st, introduced in 1987 by the World Health Organization to inform about the dangers of tobacco use and to warn against the commercial strategies of tobacco companies, especially aimed at younger generations.

Why shouldn't you start smoking? How is smoking the enemy of sustainable development? Does social media affect the consumption of cigarettes and e-cigs? Can I donate blood if I am a smoker?

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What are the main good reasons not to start smoking, and to quit if you have already started?

There are at least three good reasons to quit smoking or avoid cigarettes:

  • protect your health from damage related to exposure to carcinogenic and inflammatory substances contained in cigarette smoke, which are the main cause or contributing cause of lung tumors, obstructive bronchitis, emphysema, heart attack and stroke, to name just the main ones. On average, a smoker lives 7 to 10 years less than a non-smoker and we know that smoking causes 7 million deaths in the world every year;
  • in addition to damage to health, the tobacco industry is very harmful to the environment: it contributes to deforestation, desertification, pollution of the planet and the greenhouse effect;
  • by not smoking we avoid contributing to the stellar turnover of a few multinationals that enrich themselves at the expense of the health of citizens of developing countries, constantly seeking new markets with subtle propaganda techniques and sophisticated marketing strategies to manipulate our needs and then satisfy them. Speaking of economic impact, it must be remembered that the cost to society of tobacco-related diseases in Western countries corresponds to 12% of health expenditure.

Furthermore, smoking is also harmful to those who do not smoke, in two ways: on one hand, the direct damage to individual health due to exposure to passive smoke which increases the risk of many diseases such as lung cancer compared to those who are not exposed, on the other indirectly causing damage to the environment and the planet.

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How is smoking one of the enemies of sustainable development?

The cultivation and processing of tobacco consume many natural resources such as energy, water, fertile land, potentially usable in a more sustainable and ecological way. The tobacco industry is responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases into the environment and toxic waste in enormous quantities, contributing to current phenomena such as the dispersion of plastics in the ocean and global warming. The cultivation of the tobacco plant is not very productive and with a low yield, and to increase profit margins it is delocalized for 90% in developing or low-income countries with social, health and environmental consequences in countries already disadvantaged compared to Western countries .

Farmers must continually seek out virgin soils rich in nutrients, contributing to desertification; to this we must add that the process of leaves drying requires the combustion of large quantities of wood, contributing to deforestation and CO2 emissions.

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Does social media affect the consumption of cigarettes and electronic devices?

Social media represent the new means available to big tobacco to reach their potential consumers, especially young people, bypassing the restrictions on advertising. The impact is enormous if we consider that 90% of children over 13 use Instagram or Facebook. According to a University of Southern California study, there are 123 hashtags used by influencers to promote tobacco products. They were also given instructions to encourage sales of a certain brand of cigarettes. This strategy has been banned from social media since 2019, but getting around media controls on content isn't all that difficult.

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Can I donate blood if I am a smoker?

The staff of the Donor Center strongly recommends abstention from smoking, to protect the health of their donors. Despite this, there are no contraindications for a smoker to donate blood.

The only advice is not to smoke immediately before the donation, and if possible the entire morning of the donation. In fact, the combustion process of a cigarette involves the release of carbon monoxide which, combined with the hemoglobin contained in the red blood cells, produces a momentary decrease in oxygen in the blood, thus making the donated product a little less rich in oxygen.

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Find out more about World No Tobacco Day:

Wish to become a blood donor at San Raffaele? Visit our site:

Written by

Giulia Veronesi
Giulia Veronesi

She is associate professor of Thoracic Surgery at UniSR, Director of the strategic program of Robotic Thoracic Surgery of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan. She got a Degree in Medicine and is specialized in General Surgery and Thoracic Surgery. For many years she has been dealing with the treatment of thoracic oncological pathologies, in particular, she is dedicated to the minimally invasive robotic approach for the treatment of early or locally advanced lung cancer, for the treatment of tumors of the mediastinum and myasthenia. She has concentrated her scientific activity in collaboration with numerous national and international research centers, supported by competitive grants in the field of innovative surgical techniques for the treatment of lung cancer and in the field of lung cancer prevention and screening with low-dose CT and molecular markers. She is active in numerous national and international scientific societies. She is the author of over 246 scientific articles, and she is the author of 8 book chapters. Her H index is 42. Over the course of her career, she has also won numerous awards, such as the “Women and Technologies” award for robotic activity and lung cancer screening (2017), and the “Robert J. Ginsberg Lectureship Award for Surgery ”, awarded during the World Conference on Lung Cancer in Barcelona (2019).

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