Two Smoking Slices of Pizza

by Kim Nguyen on February 20, 2014


If you’re reading this right now, I’m sure you’re a growing intellectual who has (at the very least) some concern for the global environment. But let’s just backtrack for a moment, to about third grade or so. You’re sitting in your favorite class, math naturally, and you’re learning about fractions for the first time. Your homework example is as follows: Your parents have just bought a small pizza with 6 slices. They give you 4 slices. What is the fraction of pizza that you can eat? Answer: 2/3.  But if this has ever happened to you, you’ll know that 2/3 is not enough. You don’t want just 2/3 of the pizza; you want the other 1/3 as well. That’s a whole 2 slices of pizza that you’re missing out on.

Did you know?

1/3 of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.[i]

1/3 of adolescents have sex by age 16.[ii]

1/3 of college students smoke cigarettes.[iii]

It’s a bigger fraction than you think – those 2 slices of pizza. We all know that being overweight can lead to health problems, having sex can lead to health problems, smoking cigarettes can lead to health problems. While you’re probably nodding your head and thinking about cancer right about now, just remember that smoking doesn’t affect just us; it hurts the environment as well. Smoking pollutes the air, destroys forests, starts bushfires, and kills animals. For example, approximately 600 million trees are cut each year to help produce dry tobacco.[iv]

In addition to the obvious carbon monoxide that’s emitted by cigarettes, there are an additional 4000 chemicals released, including 70+ that are cancer-causing.[v]  Even when someone has finished smoking a cigarette, the life of the cigarette doesn’t end there. It is estimated that one in three cigarettes end up being littered.[vi] To make it even worse, cigarettes are not bio-degradable, and they can take up to 12 years to break down, thanks to the cellulose acetate (plastic) that makes up the filter.

Now if that wasn’t bad enough, 1 in 10 bushfires are caused by improperly disposed cigarette butts, resulting in about 14 deaths each year. For the other improperly disposed cigarette butts that don’t cause bushfires, there’s a chance that they’ll end up getting washed into harbors, beaches, and rivers when it rains. There are then two possibilities which could happen from there: 1) the cigarette butt remains in the water until it breaks down (1 year if in fresh water, 5 years if in salt water), or 2) the cigarette butt gets consumed by animals, potentially killing them.

I bet these statistics sound quite shocking, for who knew that little leftover cigarette butts (never mind the cigarettes themselves) could be so environmentally harmful? But here’s some more numbers for you. It is estimated that 5.6 trillion cigarettes are produced each year.[vii] Going back to what I said earlier, if one in three cigarettes are being littered, that’s about 1.86 trillion cigarettes littered each year. If we were to place those 1.86 trillion cigarette butts end to end, they would circle the planet 930 times (assuming that each cigarette butt is 20 mm in length).

With all of these risks and dangers that come with smoking tobacco, there can be only one explanation as to why it is still being manufactured in such large quantities: money. Revenues collected from global tobacco sales total to about $500 billion.[viii] On the bright side, maybe everything is not as bad as it seems. CVS has recently announced that they plan to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by October, even though it will result in an estimated $2 billion loss of potential revenue.[ix] Maybe this will just make customers angry or maybe this will have no effect whatsoever on the tobacco industry – I’m not really sure. But I do know that people are starting to take tobacco and its effects more seriously. I think it’s time for change. It’s time to fight for those 2 slices of pizza.

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