There are several reasons that people cite e-cigarettes as the “better alternative” to smoking. In addition to providing a better option for many people who replace regular cigarettes with electronic ones, they are also proving to be a much healthier option for the environment.
Cigarette filters are the most commonly littered trash in the world. This is especially apparent each year on the world’s beaches where they have become the single most collected trash item that washes up on shore. According to the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California in San Francisco about 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts end up as litter each year.
Litter is not the only problem. Between the wood burned in the tobacco curing process, to the materials needed to create the paper, filters and packaging, an estimated 1.5 million trees are cut down each day to make cigarettes. Every day, not every year, every day. These numbers are staggering and almost unbelievable, and yet, unfortunately, these facts are rarely thought of. In addition, to the potential for the reduction of possibly harmful secondhand emissions, the e-cigarette appears to open the door for a greener future in almost every aspect.
E-Cigarette Vapor Emissions versus Cigarette Smoke Emissions
Toxic secondhand smoke kills over 50,000 people each year. Cigarettes not only produce secondhand smoke when exhaled by the user, they also produce a fair amount of side stream smoke that is released into the environment where it can wreak havoc on the health of people and their environment.
Freakonomics.com recently estimated that smokers will produce as much as 84,878 tons of air pollution each year. For comparison’s sake, that number is equal to about half of the amount created by all cars in the United States. The air pollution contains known poisonous compounds including formaldehyde, ammonia, tar, acetone, arsenic, and carbon monoxide just for starters. These chemicals can cause disease and threaten the environment, and they are all present in secondhand smoke.
E-cigarettes, in addition to have no side stream smoke, produce a vapor that by several accounts is much less harmful to the environment than the old fashioned, combustible cigarettes. In 2014, a study was published in the British Journal of Medical Practice, which examined the effects of vapor in the environment and found that, “the vapor contains nothing like the concentrations of carcinogens and toxins as cigarette smoke. In fact, toxin concentrations are almost all well below 1/20th that of cigarette smoke.” Another study conducted back in 2012, also showed quite the difference between cigarettes and e-cigarettes and their effect on indoor air quality. The study states that, “for all byproducts measured, electronic cigarettes produce very small exposures relative to tobacco cigarettes. The study indicates no apparent risk to human health from e-cigarette emissions based on the compounds analyzed.” In addition several studies have shown that air that is around a vaper contains generally the same amount of toxicants as the ambient air itself. In general, the quality of our air and environment would undoubtedly be positively impacted if there was a general shift away from regular cigarettes and to the electronic models.
E-Cigarette Waste versus Cigarette Waste
It seems incredible but there are approximately 5.5 trillion traditional cigarettes produced worldwide every year. With so many cigarettes created, it’s really not that surprising the large amount of waste that they create. Cigarette butts are well known to be the most littered item around, making up for about 38% of the improperly discarded trash in the world. Most often cigarette butts that are improperly disposed of end up in the worst places, like in our
water supply. The filter itself holds a large amount of toxic chemicals, which can be released when wet. This also causes great harm to our aquatic friends and bird life, who often end up ingesting the harmful butts, effectively poisoning their system and causing extremely dangerous circumstances.
What is worse, cigarette butts are not biodegradable in the traditional sense. Although it can take as long as 26 years for a cigarette butt to break down– on a microscopic level, the remnants and toxic chemicals that exist in the filter remain in the environment for much longer. In addition, each time a cigarette is smoked, waste is created. Even with disposable models, e-cigarette users get several uses– not just one, meaning the volume of waste is reduced dramatically.
Even though there are disposable e-cigarettes, many users opt for rechargeable and refillable options. These electronic cigarette models do significantly cut down on the waste especially in comparison to regular cigarettes. There is some waste, as eventually cartomizer may need to be replaced, bottles of e-liquid become empty, and sometimes batteries just go out. However, most responsible vapers know that you should not just discard a lithium ion battery and are aware that packaging and bottles can be recycled or reused. With e-cigarettes at least there is the possibility that most of the waste can be recycled properly. Still, even if the e-cigarette waste was discarded of improperly, cigarette butts through their sheer volume and toxicity level would continue to be a bigger threat to the environment in general, than any part of an e-cigarette.
E-Cigarette Production versus Cigarette Production
As previously mentioned, an astonishing amount of trees are cut down to make cigarettes. Over 540 million trees each year are cut down to cure tobacco, make paper, filter and packaging for the cigarette industry. These numbers are startling and almost unbelievable. While there are no numbers specifically on total e-cigarette manufacturing use of paper and tree derived products, it appears as if the only place tree material is used is in packaging and even then it would be so minuscule in comparison it would be hard to even calculate it. In reality, no trees would really need to be cut down to make e-cigarettes, and that impact alone makes the production of regular cigarettes so astronomically more dangerous to our environment it’s hard to comprehend.
Critics might criticize the pollution created in e-cigarette factories, however, again in comparison the tobacco factories are still creating factory emissions themselves. There still is little information on how much e-cigarette factories effect the environment through their manufacturing and nicotine extraction processes, however, it is reasonable to assume the factory emissions and waste are at least comparable, and likely have less of an impact than what is produced from a traditional cigarette factory.
When it comes to the future and the future of our children, the environment should be of primary concern. Of course we have years to go before we will truly know what long term effects are possible as a result of e-cigarette use and waste, the preliminary findings seem to show that e-cigarettes will have a smaller impact on the environment than their combustible predecessors.
Also, as battery technology improves every year, so does the technology associated with all parts of e-cigarettes from the cartomizers to the e-liquid production. These changes will only lessen e-cigarettes environmental effects as more organic compounds are used rather than non-biodegradable plastics and materials. Responsible vapers will play a huge role in how much impact they truly have on the environment, choosing rechargeable and refillable options, as well as properly recycling and disposing of the waste that is created. Still in comparison to the trillions of cigarettes out there, e-cigarettes clearly give their users at least an opportunity to reuse and reduce trash in their own environment.
Still, there is debate on both sides, and likely always will be. In this world today going green is so much more important than it ever has been before. The effects of smoking tobacco has long been acknowledged as dangerous to our environment, but if we apply that same harmful theory to vaping just because they are perceived as similar we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our environment. No one is saying e-cigarettes do not impact the environment, in many ways of course they do, especially when you consider all aspects of manufacturing and shipping that are involved in the e-cigarette business. However, we live in a world where we are asked to make choices daily– what kind of car we drive, how we bag our groceries, what we do with our trash– that can directly impact the environment. We don’t have all the perfect solutions for living green, but people are doing what they can to make things a little better. Even if they are just a little better than cigarettes; even if all it means is a few less trees cut down and a few less harmful emissions in the air, e-cigarettes would still be huge contributor to bettering our environment for the future.