Environmentalism and Vaping: The Overlooked Devastation of Cigarettes

There is no question that cigarettes are unhealthy. The health effects of inhaling combusted smoke are well-documented and horrific; it is the number one preventable cause of death globally. An overlooked aspect of smoking’s devastation is the environmental impact. Cultivation of the plant, production of the paper cigarettes, chemical processes, and mind-blowing torrents of pollution add to smoking’s long list of offenses. Environmentalism and vaping are not typically paired, but let us investigate the environmental effects of vaping versus combustion.

Big-game hunter, rancher, and progressive pioneer Theodore Roosevelt once wrote,

“it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.”

Though Mr. Roosevelt maintained a deep love for hunting, he was a revolutionary conservationist. He established 230 million acres of public lands, while roundly protesting the frenzied depletion of resources and animal extinction.

Surprisingly to some, hunting groups have been some of conservation’s greatest allies. Groups such as Ducks Unlimited have banded together for the benefit of water-fowl, so that mankind can continue to hunt them for generations to come. In the same way, nicotine lovers can reduce harm to the environment by switching to electronic cigarettes.

THE IMPACT OF CIGARETTES:

An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are deposited every year. We’ve all seen the butts on street-sides, birdbaths, and floating bloated in the pools around sewer grates. These stinking, unsightly nubs are sponges for hazardous chemicals, and account for the biggest source of litter in cities worldwide. We all know the chemicals in cigarettes and butts are hazardous, and these toxic, and sometimes radioactive chemicals are seeping into our water supply and environment as a whole. Up to 80% of debris in our waterways, lakes, rivers, and oceans, comes from dry land. If cigarette butts and cigar tips are the most littered objects worldwide, imagine how much these chemicals are affecting our health and environments.

Not to be neglected is the paper use in the standard cigarette. Modern cigarette manufacturing uses nearly 4 miles of paper per hour. This accounts for massive deforestation. Additionally, six million trees are burnt yearly for the drying process of tobacco. For perspective, one tree is killed for every 300 cigarettes.

In 1995, worldwide tobacco manufacturing produced 2.26 billion kilograms of solid waste and 209 million kilograms of chemical waste. Among these chemicals were ammonia (946,155 kg), hydrochloric acid (407,371 kg), methyl ethyl ketone (340,821 kg), sulphuric acid (67,228 kg), and toluene (349,622 kg).

According to ASH, Cigarette smoke contains polonium 210, which is radioactive. A a pack-a-day smoker gets a dose of radiation each year equivalent to about 200 chest x-rays.

A NEW ENVIRONMENTAL HOPE:

Since its introduction to the market, vaping has contributed to the decline of cigarettes. Much to the chagrin of Big Tobacco and state governments that benefit from the MSA, vaping has replaced combustable cigarettes for millions of people worldwide. What is vaping’s impact on our environment?

Notably, open-system vaping reduces waste. Unlike cigarettes, which are one-use and leave a polluted filter to discard, vaping products are reusable and have generally high shelf-life. You can get years of use out of an electronic cigarette, and if it is disposed/recycled correctly, it has a minimal impact on the environment. It is extremely important to dispose of all electronics and batteries properly.  Unsorted e-waste can contribute to chemical pollution!

As covered above, the growth and production of tobacco cigarettes is environmentally detrimental. Let’s look at the aspects of e-juice production, in regards to environmentalism:

Vegetable glycerine is a naturally-occurring chemical with a very low toxicity. It is cheap to produce, and abundant. Because of its low toxicity, it is safe to store and transport, with little to no negative environmental harm. VG can be found in much of our foods.

Propylene glycol is regarded as safe by the FDA. Like VG, it can be found in much of our food and pharmaceuticals. It is extremely easily produced, and readily biodegradable into the environment. Some folks have an allergic reaction to PG, but it is very rare. PG is so ubiquitous that a PG allergy would severely restrict a person’s diet.

Nicotine can be found naturally in potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, and many edible nightshade plants. Of course, nicotine is an irritant to the human body in high concentrations. You should exercise extreme care when handling and disposing of nicotine. Fortunately, nicotine is very soluble and easily extracted.

IN SUMMATION:

Vaping products can have a negative effect on the environment, but only if vapers don’t properly handle and dispose of the products. The renewable aspect of open-system vaping products, the simplistic chemical processes involved in e-juice production, and the absence the most littered object in the world make vaping wholly better for the environment than smoking. It is our responsibility to maintain safe disposal practices when it comes to vaping products, if we can ever hope to maintain a self-regulating industry.

Something to think about:

How can we reduce vaping’s impact on the environment? Do environmentalism and vaping go hand-in-hand?

You may also like our article about whether or not vaping causes heart attacks!

Tim is Mt Baker Vapor's resident creative weirdo. He writes, composes music, draws, designs, produces podcasts, investigates, and blows the trumpet for the Common Man.

7 thoughts on “Environmentalism and Vaping: The Overlooked Devastation of Cigarettes

  1. Thank you for this article. At the risk of creating “smug” (think South Park) this is one of the reasons I’m proud to be a vaper.

  2. Great post. I have several friends that managed to survive CRNA school and I was stressed just watching them. All nursing students and employed nurses could benefit from this wise advice. I particularly appreciate your suggestions on communication.

  3. The biggest impact on the environment from us vapers is probably the bottles we get our juice in. But no one is going through 20 a day and they’re recyclable for the most part. Also juice manufacturers are getting away from the smaller bottles mostly. I don’t know if that means less plastic altogether but it’s less total pieces of garbage. In my experience the larger bottles have a better chance of making it to the recycling bin than the 10-15ml bottles. But they don’t get tossed out the car window or flipped to the gutter or anywhere else cigarette butts end up. When I was a smoker I rarely considered the fact that I was littering when I flipped my cigarette butt into the street or into the gutter. It seemed like the best place for them at the time. But I also thought for a long time that they were harmless and would biodegrade in a short time. Ignorance is bliss! Anyway, most of the things we use as vapers are biodegradable and/or recyclable from the juice bottles to the mods so as long as we act responsibly I think our environmental impact will be minimal compared to smoking.

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