Nicotine and tobacco have had a significant presence in our history from as early as the 1400s. Centuries later and they are still prevalent in society—though better understood now. Today, the damaging effects that cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and snus have on our health are widely known, and due to the addictive nature of nicotine, they should be avoided entirely.
When considering the environmental effects, however, there are a few factors to take into account. In this article, we’ll explore which of the three is the least environmentally damaging: cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or snus.
The Environmental Damage Caused by Cigarettes
Cigarettes are consumed by inhaling and exhaling nicotine, tobacco, as well as a plethora of other toxic chemicals, including arsenic. When exhaled, cigarettes release a toxic fume that has a negative impact on air quality. Second-hand smoke is often considered a health hazard, but it is, in fact, also an environmental hazard.
Moreover, cigarettes are one of the major reasons for deforestation. Deforestation has a detrimental effect on the environment; it emits greenhouse gases, causes soil erosion, leads to increased water levels in the air, and it displaces people’s and animal’s habitats, thereby creating an imbalance in our ecosystem.
Another hugely damaging factor of cigarettes is the way they are disposed of—or rather, how they are littered. Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world. The butts are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate and they are not biodegradable.
When thrown on the ground, the butts can leak harsh chemicals into the water or soil, which then goes down storm drains and, ultimately, damages our aquatic ecosystem.
The Environmental Damage Caused by Snus
Snus, which is regularly perceived as the tobacco free alternative on the market, comes in little pouches that contain nicotine, flavourings, and other properties. There are also snus pouches that contain tobacco, but today we will evaluate nicotine pouches only.
Unlike cigarettes, snus is not smoked, making it a less environmentally-damaging option. Instead, snus is placed under the upper lip so the nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream through the gums.
As nicotine pouches do not contain tobacco, they don’t contribute to deforestation in the same way tobacco products, such as cigarettes, do.
However, when it comes to disposal of snus, they are also culprits of littering. In Sweden, there are reports of pouches being thrown into the toilet bowl instead of the trash can, which can cause problems with water systems.
Moreover, the pouches themselves are made of cellulose materials—similar to tea bags—and do not decompose very easily. Fortunately, nicotine pouches do not contain as many harmful substances as cigarette butts, but they should always be disposed of correctly regardless.
The Environmental Damage Caused by e-Cigarettes
E-cigarettes are a relatively new method of smoking. Smoking e-cigarettes is known as ‘vaping’, and is done so by inhaling and exhaling nicotine and other flavourings from a pod.
Just like cigarettes, the exhaled smoke from e-cigarettes can be damaging to our air quality due to the negative effects of the heavy metals.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated and contain disposable pods that are designed for one-time-use. These pods often end up being littered, rather than recycled. In fact, JUUL, a popular e-cigarette brand, does not have a dedicated recycling programme for the pods and advises users to simply discard the pods in a regular bin. Fortunately, the disposable pods are not as toxic as cigarette butts, therefore they are slightly less environmentally damaging than cigarettes.
Disposing batteries in a correct manner is also crucial—in fact, it’s required by law. Batteries contain a host of poisonous chemicals and recycling them is very important to avoid these chemicals leaking into our soil and groundwater.
Implementing recycling programmes for e-cigarettes and advising correct battery disposal is crucial if manufacturers want to make a positive impact and mitigate the environmental damage caused by e-cigarettes.
All three methods are often incorrectly disposed of, resulting in vast amounts of litter across the globe. Tobaccoless snus seems to have the least environmental damage, though, as it does not contribute to deforestation in the same way that cigarettes and e-cigarettes do.