WHO urges govt to ban greenwashing activities of the tobacco industry to appear nature-friendly
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP), a global tobacco industry watchdog, have started a process to expose the tobacco industry’s destructive practices affecting the environment as well as their green-washing tactics, and show ways of restricting these practices through policy measures and awareness-raising campaigns.
Greenwashing is the practice of marketing a company or organisation so they appear more environment-friendly or more ecological (more natural, healthier, free of chemicals, recyclable, less wasteful of natural resources…) when in practice, its activities pollute the environment.
WHO, FCTC and STOP, in a joint webinar, on Thursday, May 12, 2022, said the adverse environmental impact of tobacco is often overlooked by the public and intentionally underplayed by the tobacco industry and has consequently drawn very little attention over the past decades.
They said this deception is also the result of the green-washing tactics introduced by controversial industries in the early 2000s as an attempt to represent their environmentally destructive products and business practices as sustainable. These tactics include cynical marketing strategies and corporate social responsibility schemes focused on building sustainable communities and economies in low-middle income countries. Awards given to them by well-respected sustainability indexes have further bolstered the tobacco industry’s socio-environmental reputation.
The webinar was led up to World No Tobacco Day on May 31, 2022. A new report spotlighting the extensive environmental damage caused by tobacco companies and how the industry “greenwashes” its products and activities to appear environment-friendly was published during the webinar. It was timed to the start of the webinar, which was co-hosted by WHO and STOP that featured tobacco control experts and advocates from Africa, Asia, and Europe. The event came just two weeks ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, which has a special focus this year on environmental impacts.
The panellists briefed participants on the significant environmental impact of tobacco production, an industry that is responsible for the release of more than 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, and the most littered item on earth, cigarette butts.
The panellists shared examples of greenwashing in countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, India, Kenya, Indonesia, Nigeria, and more.
Speakers include: Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director, Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health; Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat Uruguay; Mr. Andy Rowell, Senior Researcher, Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, a partner in STOP United Kingdom; Ms. Raquel Fernández Megina, President, NoFumadores Spain; Ms. Emmanuelle Beguinot, Director, CNCT (National Committee Against Tobacco) France; Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria; Miss Dianita Sugiyo, Muhammadiyah Steps, Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta Indonesia; and Ms. Femi Oke, International Broadcaster (Moderator).
According to the WHO, environmental impacts of tobacco farming include massive use of water, large-scale deforestation, and contamination of the air and water systems. Many countries that grow and/or produce tobacco are low- or middle-income countries and some of them face substantive food insecurity and even hunger.
Indeed, experts at the webinar called on nations to ban the greenwashing activities of the tobacco industry, responsible for the release of more than 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, and the most littered item on earth, cigarette butts.
In a report, last week, they spotlight the extensive environmental damage caused by tobacco companies and how the industry “greenwashes” its products and activities to appear environmentally friendly.
Calling for action, the report, ‘Talking Trash: Behind the Tobacco Industry’s a green Public Relations’, said the governments and the public around the world should be aware that greenwashing by the tobacco industry is increasing and needs to be countered.
Despite the attempts by the industry to improve its image, tobacco use remains one of the leading causes of premature death and a major cause of environmental harm.
The governments that are parties to the FCTC also have an obligation to exclude the industry from engagement or influence over health policy, no matter how hard the industry attempts to greenwash its image.
“The WHO and STOP are calling on all governments, especially ones that are Parties to the FCTC, to ban the greenwashing activities of the industry, as they are a central part of the industry’s so-called CSR and marketing campaigns, aimed at industry renormalization, which tends to circumvent Article 5.3.
“Parties are obliged to end industry CSR under the FCTC, so unlike other industries, there is a mechanism in place to help governments prevent tobacco industry greenwashing,” says the report.
Ahead of World No Tobacco Day which falls on May 31, the report exposes the tobacco industry’s destructive practices affecting the environment as well as their greenwashing tactics and shows ways of restricting these practices through policy measures and awareness-raising campaigns.
The adverse environmental impact of tobacco is often overlooked by the public and intentionally underplayed by the tobacco industry.
Scientific studies have also shown that the entire product lifecycle of a single cigarette has a climate change contribution of up to 14 grams of CO2 equivalent.
Tobacco growing and curing are also both direct causes of deforestation. An estimated 1.5 billion hectares of (mainly tropical) forests have been lost worldwide since the 1970s, contributing to up to 20 per cent of annual greenhouse gas increases.
About 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded each year worldwide, making them the most littered item on earth, and the most frequent item of litter on beaches.
Moreover, recent research published by the Truth Initiative shows that the chemicals that leached from a single cigarette butt (soaked for 24 hours in a liter of water) released enough toxins to kill 50 per cent of the saltwater and freshwater fish exposed to it for 96 hours.
Even with such statistics, with relatively few comprehensive studies undertaken, the true environmental impact of tobacco is unknown, says the report.
In India, a specific example of tobacco industry greenwashing is Imperial Brands which funds education, sanitation and health through its leaf partnership with Alliance One in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, including environmental education through a local NGO called PROTECT.
According to the report, on World Environment Day in 2018, ITC, the largest Indian Tobacco Company, claimed to be “water positive,” “carbon positive” and “solid waste recycling positive” for “over 14 years”, implying the company was having a net benefit on the environment.
Since 2011, British American Tobacco (BAT) has been involved with the Brazilian Tobacco Growers Association, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and the Ministry of the Environment for the preservation of forests on the south coast of the country.
Also, Altria, the US tobacco company, funded so-called CSR projects in the US, including the initiatives — Keep America Beautiful, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Center for Watershed Protection.