If you smoke a cigarette in a public place, you add to air pollution, experts say.
“Cigarette smoke has toxic elements including carcinogens and globally classified air pollutants like nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, benzene, hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde that harm the environment,” Nagappa B, a senior scientific officer at the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, informed The Observer.
Cigarette smoke contains methane and carbon dioxide, two main contributors to global warming and the greenhouse effect. “It’s not just the smoke, even smoke from the production, processing and packaging of cigarettes causes’ air pollution,” Nagappa said.
Experts say more than 4,000 toxic chemicals are released by the cigarette smoke. Of these, 170 of them have been categorized as severe air pollutants and 70 as carcinogens.
Venkata R, an employee at Bengaluru Tobacco Cell, said: “Chemicals like arsenic (used in rat poison), cadmium (used in batteries), benzene and nicotine (used in pesticides) are present in tobacco smoke. Adding to it, the smoke also has lead and radioactive polonium.”
He added: “We have been trying to work with policies and laws to curb smoking in public places.”
When inhaled, carbon monoxide mixes with blood and decreases the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. Inhaling gases like methane and carbon dioxide depletes oxygen level in the body, while nitric oxide hinders the flow of blood. Hydrogen cyanide can cause death, while frequent exposure to formaldehyde and benzene can cause cancer.
As per a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco smoke emits around 2,600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and about 5,200,000 tonnes of methane worldwide every year. Research by Yale University shows that cigarette smoke is ten times more dangerous than diesel or petrol smoke released by the vehicles. The amount of carbon monoxide released by a car is 17 parts per million (ppm) while one cigarette has 20 ppm of the gas.
“Vehicles create air pollution all over the city, but smoking causes pollution even in secluded corners of the streets,” agrees Ruchita S, a student of environmental sciences.