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Forget health hazards, cigarettes pose major threat to fragile environment in J&K

Srinagar, Jan 20:  Experts have warned that hazardous substances found in the cigarette butts including cadmium, arsenic and lead are killing fragile environment in Jammu and Kashmir.

 “Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, which is a form of synthetic fiber, resistant to biodegradation and that can persist in the environment for generations,” said Dr Arshid Jahangir, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Studies, University of Kashmir.


Dr Jahangir noted that when the butts, which consist of un-smoked remnant tobacco, the filter of cigarettes and paper wrap, leaches out toxic chemicals in the environment.

“When discarded carelessly, it leaches out toxic chemicals in the environment, thus contaminating it with heavy metals and over 4,000 poisonous chemicals like nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nicotine and many more,” he said.

Dr Jahangir, however, asserted that no detailed study has been carried out on the subject matter at Kashmir University so far.

A senior professor at SKAUST, wishing not be named, said the cigarette butts are carried as runoff from streets to drains to rivers; these butts leach heavy chemicals in water bodies.

“It also affects aquatic species. Cigarette and bidi butts thrown carelessly after use are a common cause of forest and residential fires and a threat to life, property and forest lands,” he said.

Dr Naveed Ahmad Shah, Head, Chest Diseases Hospital, Srinagar, noted that cellulose acetate filter attached to most manufactured cigarettes, a form of plastic, is slow to degrade.

“Consequently, it can prove to be a hazardous solid waste,” Dr Naved said.

Project Coordinator Jammu and Kashmir State Tobacco Control Cell Dr Mohammed Naser said there have been many public discourses on the health impacts of tobacco use. “However, its effect on the environment has come up for scant discussion,” he said

Dr Naser said stricter implementation of laws on public smoking will not only improve public health but also restrict the environmental damage caused from cigarette use.

According to the official data of Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) accessed by The Kashmir Monitor, 23.7 percent population of Jammu and Kashmir is using tobacco products in one form or the other.

Over 20.8 percent are in the grip of smoking while rest are addicted to smokeless tobacco use, as per the figures.  Similarly, the valley has recorded tobacco sales worth Rs 5,530 crore over last seven years.

According to WHO, tobacco kills seven million people each year. Its cultivation, processing, production and disposal also harm the ecology immensely. Tobacco smoke emissions spew thousands of tonnes of human carcinogens, toxic substances and greenhouse gases into the environment. Cigarette butts and other tobacco waste make up the largest number of individual pieces of litter in the world.