Does smoking cause air pollution?

The below article talks about smoking, air pollution, if smoking can lead to air pollution, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality, air pollution, and smoking habits. 

Does smoking cause air pollution?

Yes, ciagrette smoking can cause air pollution, as it emits toxic air-born pollutants on usage. But the impacts of cigarette smoking is not limited to air pollution, it causes or triggers other forms of environmental degradation by [romoting deforestation, increasing toxic wastes, soil pollution, water pollution, wildfires, contamination of water sources, destruction of marine and land ecosystems, etc. 

Air pollution and air quality

Poor air quality due to increasing pollution is an extensively studied field. The effects of exposure to bad air quality are inevitable and researchers have taken up various measures to identify the different impacts air-borne pollutants could have. Air pollution has been found to impact human health severely and if exposed to it on a long-term basis, it could cause irreversible damage including respiratory conditions and neuro system damages amongst other illnesses. 

Research into air pollution in the top 30 cities in the world shows that Indian cities hold the first 21 positions and that in 2019, approximately 1.67 million deaths were attributed to long-term exposure to poor air quality. The long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution caused heart attacks, chronic lung diseases, strokes, along with neonatal diseases which were accelerated due to the poor air quality (Hadley S., 2020). 

Various countries have taken measures to ensure clean air. For example, cities like Birmingham and Madrid aim to create “clean air zones” by enforcing strict regulations within the inner-city borders, China has acknowledged the need to speed up the construction and usage of electric vehicles to ensure that decent levels of air quality can be maintained in the country, Bangladesh high court has put together several directives aimed at ministries across the country to take actions to counter the effects of air pollution on its citizens (Hadley S., 2020).

Sources of exposure to poor air quality

Air pollution and its effects can be seen globally across rural and urban areas. Exposure to poor air quality can occur indoors or outdoors and some of the sources are the following:

  • Smoke and fumes from vehicles, factories, fires, power plants, burning waste, heating systems, firecrackers, etc. 
  • Smog from indoor or outdoor fire sources
  • Tobacco smoke from primary usage or second-hand exposure
  • Burning fuel sources at close quarters like coal, oil, and wood
  • Occupational exposure such as paint fumes, varnish, automobile fumes, etc. 
  • Chemicals from cleaning agents, pesticides, paints, etc. 
  • Exposure from long-term pollutant sources like asbestos or lead paint
  • Allergens, mold spores, dander, pollen, etc. 

Prolonged exposure to poor air quality could translate to the following physical symptoms – coughing, wheezing, irritation and inflammation of eyes/ throat/skin, respiratory difficulties, chronic fatigue, breathlessness, diminished lung capacity, etc. If any of these symptoms are observed in pregnant individuals, it is best to consult a medical professional for help and counsel. 


WHO reports tobacco smoking as one of the greatest epidemics, killing more than 8 million people every year, > 7 million of these deaths can be directly attributed to primary tobacco usage and the rest could be attributed to exposure to second-hand smoke. WHO has also recognised that all forms of tobacco are harmful and that there is no safe level of exposure (WHO, 2021). A study conducted in 2019, shows that there are approximately 2.1 million new cases of lung cancer each year, and 1.8 million lung cancer deaths; and tobacco smoke has been found to be the #1 risk factor towards lung cancer, and accounts for over 85% of the new cases(Zhou G., 2019) 

Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco smoking and other forms include pipe smoking, smokeless tobaco products, cigars, etc. All of these have severe health impacts and these have been studied extensively over the years by various researchers all over the world. The below sections of this article however, would be talking of the environmental impacts caused by smoking. 

Smoking and the Environment

Of the several air pollution studies conducted globally, one of them has reported that the air pollution through emissions caused by 10 cigarettes is higher than the emissions produced by the exhaust of a diesel fuelled car (MNT, n.d.). Tobacco smoking produces the emissions of fine particulate matter, which is one the most threatening forms of pollutants to human and environmental health. Environmental detereioration due to smoking patterns are multi-faceted and have chronic implications on various dimensions of the environment, some of them are as follows:

  • The demand for tobacco and tobacco products have increased rates of deforestation. Since tobacco is grown around the regions of rainforests, more land is required to plant and harvest tobacco crops, leading to the decimation of rainforests and other crops. A study conducted shows that a cigarette manufacturing unit requires approximately 4 miles of paper for rolling and packaging, this means that destruction of one tree would provide for 300 cigarettes, and to meet the paper needs, more trees have to be cut. 

A prime example for deforestation to meet tobacco needs could be the Tabora Village in Tanzania where deforestation was conducted in large scales to cultivate tobacco. 

  • Deforestation due to tobacco demands have led to increased incidences of environmental disasters such as soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, extinction of several native plants or animals, increasing global temperatures, etc. 
  • Huge amounts of toxic waste is produced by the manufacturing activities for cigarettes, as well as after these cigarettes are used. The processes involved with tobacco cultivation, to harvesting, and processing requires large amounts of chemicals, which is eventually let out into the environment as emissions. This causes increased rates of environmental degradation with severe impacts on human, animal, and plant health. 

Toxic wastes generated from these processes could leave lands barren and threaten local ecosystems and habitats. Reports from as early as 1995 shows us that nearly 2300 million kg of waste was generated during cigarette manufacturing, and there was an additional 209 kg of just chemical waste. These rates would have exponentially grown over the years to meet the increasing demands. 

  • Industrial processes involved lead to huge quantities of emissions annually and adds immense concentrations of toxic pollutants into the atmosphere. The very act of smoking, along with other activities from cultivation of tobacco to logistical activities that distribute these products contribute immensely to global emissions and increasingly large carbon footprints. 
  • The huge amounts of pesticides, fertilisers, other chemicals used from cultivation to manufacturing has the capability to seep into the lands and cause severe impacts on soil health. It would also contaminate ground water and nearby water bodies, thus threatning marine ecosystems and human, plant, and animal health in the neighbouring areas. 
  • When a cigarette is smoked, there are emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, along with more noxious chemicals which make exposure to the smoke extremely dangerous to human and planet health. Methane and carbon dioxide produced are greenhouse gases that contribute towards global increase in temperatures and thus global warming. It is estimated that smoking causes up to 2.6 billion kg of carbon dioxide emissions and 5.2 billion kg of methane emissions, every year. 
  • Water pollution is another major concern, as cigarette butts that are ineffectively disposed ends up in surrounding water bodies. A 2008 the international coastal cleanup program managed to clean about 3.2 million cigarette butts from waterways and beaches. Cigratte butts contributed to twice the amount of other forms of trash. These rates would have increased drastically in the following years. 
  • Cigarette butts in water systems tend to be ingested by marine species and it leads to increased deaths amongst marine species. Since cigarette butts tend to resemble insects, fishes often mistake them which eventually is lodged in their digestive systems and alters their eating habits, leading to eventual death. 

A study conducted in the US found that runoffs from just 1 cigarette butt can kill a fish inside a 1 litre jar. Conversion of this amount into the millions of cigarette butts that find its way into a water body and the number of marine species it is effected is astronomical. 

  • Environmental littering is one of the ways in which there is increased deterioration of the environment. Ever since the late 1908s, cigarette butts have been essentially 30% to 40% of the waste collected during cleanups. Nearly 38% of cigarette waste collected is just the butts, and other cigarette wastes include tobacco filters, cigarette lighters, cigar tips, packaging, etc. These wastes tend to accumulate where they lie and the chemicals from these waste seep into the surroundings causing devastating impacts on the environment and human health. 
  • The number of forestfires and wildfires due to burning cigarette butts are higher than ever. Approximately 17,000 people die every year due to fires started by cigarettes and in terms of property damage, cigarette smoking contributes to approximately 27 billion USD. Increased incidences of forest fires have been observed in the past year, especially in North America. This is extremely devastating to the ecosystem and causes immense levels of emissions. 
  • An example of a forest fire started by a cigarette would be the 1987 fire in China that killed 300 people, left 5,000 homeless and destroyed approximately 1.3 million hectares of land. 

Source: Rinkesh K., n.d.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Does smoking cause air pollution?

Does wearing a mask help with protection from second-hand smoke?

A normal surgical mask would not prevent the inhalation of particulate matter and other pollutants that you maybe exposed to through second-hand smoke. Therefore, it is always best to use filtered masks such as an N95 respirator masks or other similar masks that have reported greater efficiencies in blocking toxic air pollutants. 

Does smoking have an impact on my physical health?

There are various surveys, studies, and researches conducted worldwide that shows smoking or tobacco use to be one of the leading causes of death. Some of the health risks that are associated with smoking include cancer, autoimmune disorders, Type 2 Diabetes, premature deaths, lung disease, heart attacks, strokes, complications in pregnant women, stunted developments for the foetus, delayed motor development in childhood, breathing difficulties such as asthma, etc. 

Do people die due to smoking?

WHO reports that tobacco smoking is one of the biggest epidemics amongst global citizens, and that its a threat to public health. WHO estimates that approximately 8 million people die every year from tobacco usage, and more than 7 million of these deaths are directly attributed to primary tobacco usage, and the remaining deaths is as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke (WHO, 2021). 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

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Air Pollution caused by Factories

Advantages and Disadvantages of Air Pollution


Hadley S. (2020, December 21). Air Pollution is causing Permanent Damage to eye health. Viewed on 11-29-2021. 

Medical News Today (MNT). (n.d.). Cigarette smoke produces 10 times more air pollution than diesel car exhaust. Viewed on 12-21-2021. 

Rinkesh K. (n.d.). 13 serious effects of cigarette smoking on environment and human health. Conserve Energy Future. Viewed on 12-21-2021. 

World Health Organization (WHO). (2021, July 25). Tobacco. Fact Sheets. Viewed on 12-21-2021. 

Zhou G. (2019 November). Tobacco, air pollution, environmental carcinogenesis, and thoughts on conquering strategies of  lung cancer. Cancer, Biology, & Medicine. 16(4). pp. 700 – 713. Viewed on 12-21-2021.