Thursday, 28 May 2015

[Straits Times] Harmful effects of tobacco, from production to disposal

MANY people are unaware of the harm tobacco production and disposal pose to the environment and, ultimately, to ourselves.
In order to grow tobacco plants, forests are cleared, and the wood is burnt to cure the tobacco leaves.
As the plants are short, children as young as five years old work to harvest the leaves.
The nicotine penetrates the children's skin, resulting in "green tobacco sickness", which causes nausea, vomiting, headaches, muscle weakness, and dizziness.
The tobacco plant is sensitive to many diseases, thus pesticides are applied.
One commonly used pesticide is methyl bromide, a highly toxic gas which destroys ozone at the upper atmosphere.
Methyl bromide is more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, trapping solar radiation, thus changing the earth's climate.
Fertilisers are also needed. One type is the phosphate fertiliser, which contains radioactive polonium-210.
Tobacco leaves trap this radioactive element, and when a smoker lights up, this goes into the blood stream or into the air, as second-hand smoke.
With prolonged cigarette use, polonium-210 accumulates in the body and causes cancer.
For a person who smokes 11/2 packs a day for a year, the radioactivity build-up is equivalent to 300 chest X-rays.
Cigarettes contain at least 4,000 chemicals, with about 50 of these being carcinogenic.
Studies have demonstrated that one cigarette butt in a litre of water is able to kill 50 per cent of freshwater and saltwater fish.
Between August and October last year, participants of International Coastal Cleanup Singapore collected 13,968 cigarette butts in the coastal environment here.
With World No Tobacco Day coming up on May 31, I hope more people become aware of how tobacco harms us, not just in terms of first, second or third-hand smoke, but in all phases of production and disposal.
Amy Choong Mei Fun (Dr)