Tobacco Industry is a polluter – it must pay clean-up bill

Washington DC: The tobacco industry causes environmental pollution. Cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded waste product in the world. Researchers, Clifton Curtis et al estimate every year one to two-thirds of the cigarettes butts, i.e. between 2 and 4 trillion cigarettes, are tossed into the surrounding environment, buried in landfills, or dumped into storm drains. Their research paper details tobacco’s environmental threats to our planet and they recommend making the industry pay as the way forward.

According to Curtis, we need to hold the global tobacco industry accountable for the toxic harm they’ve caused.  “Anti-litter campaigns and cigarette butt clean-ups, often industry initiated, simply aren’t working. Our publication sets out a road map for adopting new laws and regulations that mandate the industry to prevent, reduce and mitigate the unacceptable environmental harm caused by tobacco product waste and other unsustainable actions.”

Their research was released with the model law, a short video and a visual summary of the law. Curtis is acting CEO of Cigarette Butt Pollution Project which is based in California.

The model legislation, is based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), i.e. the polluter pays. Co-researcher, Kelly Lee, from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver said, “We have to remember that this is ultimately an industry-created problem. The tobacco industry has designed and marketed a product that is, not only deadly when used as directed, but also causes substantial and dangerous environmental pollution.”

Tobacco companies have escaped taking responsibility for the huge pollution their products cause. Worse, they have actually got themselves awards and insidiously position themselves for being ‘protectors’ of the environment, helping communities prepare for disasters and even tackling climate change. For BAT here, Imperial here, PMI/Sampoerna here.

In November last year, Philip Morris International was recognized as a “leading global business taking proactive steps to address climate change and reduce its carbon footprint.” In New York, PMI was named as the only consumer staples company in the S&P 500 on making the “A” List for top performers in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the Climate Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI) for quality and transparency of reporting. The recognition and international publicity was timed to enable PMI to position itself favourably for the UN Climate Change conference, COP21, in Paris.

In the ASEAN region, the transnational tobacco companies conduct CSR programmes on the environment such as tree planting with local communities. Their websites advertise how they are taking action to protect the environment and reduce the environmental impacts of their business.

Since several governments have banned the publicity of CSR activities of tobacco companies, they desperately need international awards and recognition that they can then show-off to governments to gain political mileage.

For information on TI denormalization, check out SEATCA’s Tobacco Industry Watch website

Previous ASEAN Tobacco Watch updates can be found here