Q Would smoking organic or herbal cigarettes be any better for the planet than the regular kind? Amongst all the images of rotting gums and black, tumour-covered lungs, never once have you seen a pack of smokes with a warning about what cigarettes do to the earth.
A Tsk, tsk. Perhaps it's because there's just too much to say. Anyone who's read the side of a cigarette pack has seen the very partial list of chemicals and heavy metals lurking in your cancer sticks. Back in 1994, American cigarette manufacturers finally released a list of 599 additives they potentially toss into the tobacco mix. Some are as harmless as chocolate, but others (like the mosquito insecticide methoprene, which has been linked to frog deformities) are far more worrying.
Some cigarette manufacturers, like Rothman's, say their sticks are additive-free, but don't fool yourself into thinking you're off the hook, folks. You're still sending a toxic cloud of up to 4,000 chemicals into the atmosphere when you light up - things like formaldehyde, benzene and hydrogen cyanide, which are all ozone-depleting volatile organic compounds. And in case you think your little ciggie won't make matters worse in a world saturated with chemicals, keep in mind that smoking is responsible for about 50 per cent of benzene exposure.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, over 25.6 million pounds (and over 450 kinds) of pesticides are used on this crop every year in the U.S. alone. But much production takes place in the developing world, where the protection of rivers and wildlife is about as high on the list of priorities as the risks to the workers who harvest it.
Just drying the damn leaves out has led to serious deforestation in some parts of the world. In the Philippines, more than 20,000 acres of tropical rainforest are chopped down to fuel drying sheds every year. And while burgers take the rap for rain-forest felling in Brazil, an estimated 2.5 million acres are lost to the tobacco-drying cause in that country (the world's number-one tobacco exporter) on an annual basis. Oh yes, and did I mention the lone tree that's axed and bleached for every 300 cigarettes rolled in paper? That's one tree every two weeks if you smoke a pack a day.
And, finally, there are all the f'n butts. With 5 million Canadian smokers tossing their filters onto sidewalks, streets, parks and highways, we're talking a hell of a lot of litter. And they don't just disappear, people! Sure, cellulose acetate is a plastic that comes from wood pulp, so eventually it does break down, but it takes anywhere from 18 months to 12 years to decompose. In the meantime, filters have been found in the stomachs of sick or deceased fish, birds and other unsuspecting creatures who mistake them for food. And wherever they end up, be it beaches, parklands or sewers, they inevitably leach out all the chemicals they absorbed from your cigarette.
But what about herbal cigarettes made of seemingly benign baking ingredients like cloves, basil and cinnamon? What harm could they do? Well, I hate to break it to you, but a couple of companies got in trouble with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission a few years back for implying that being free of additives, nicotine and tobacco makes their products safer than regular cigarettes. Turns out even these veggie sticks puff out plenty of tar and carbon monoxide (a greenhouse gas precursor that contributes to global warming). And just because they're herbal and sometimes come wrapped in pretty leaves instead of paper doesn't mean pesticides aren't used on their ingredients. We couldn't find organic or certified organic herbal cigarettes anywhere.
In fact, one of the only organic smokables we found was American Spirit's line of certified organic rolling tobacco ($20/40g pouch at Cheers Smoke Shop on McCaul; it should be available at most tobacco shops by the end of May). A Vancouver store also sells dried certified organic tobacco leaves online that are said to be quite strong and should, according to the shop, be blended with other herbs like mullein ($24.7/100g, www.gaiagarden.ca). Not that organic tobacco won't kill you - it will - but at least you're not partaking in the global chemical bath associated with the rest of the industry.
If you really want to stick it to the biz, grow your own. You can buy all sorts of organically produced seeds at www.eonseed.com.
And for all you cigar chompers out there, there's one 100-per-cent certified organic cigar: the Plasencia Reserva Organic Cigar ($56/five at www.famous-smoke.com). But aficionados will tell you that all Cuban cigars are organic, since few, if any, pesticides are left on the embargoed island. Ox-pulled ploughs are used instead of tractors, and all tobacco leaves intended for cigars are air-dried.
Of course, your greenest option is to stop smoking, but you already know that.
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