By Your Own Emissions

| We reported a while back that the true private mortality cost of smoking a pack of cigarettes is close to $222. It turns out smoking has a serious environmental impact as well. Assuming all 5.5 trillion cigarettes produced around the world each year get smoked, smokers produce 84,878 tons of particulate air pollution annually — about half the pollution put out by all the cars in America. [%comments]


Cigarettes are certainly bad for health and environment. However, the comparison to cars is somewhat misleading, and makes it seem as if the pollution from cars is relatively low. Your numbers appear to be based on comparing the particulate emissions from smoking to only the particulate emissions from cars. Particulate emissions from cars are relatively low - the real problem with car emissions comes from the great amount of other non-particulate substances that they emit (carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide...).


By my figuring, this means that it would take nearly 9000 pack-a-day smokers to quit in order to save a ton of pollution per year. That'll take some doing.


Don't forget the costs of all the cigarette butts that are strewn about on the ground instead of being disposed of properly.

Scott Supak

Don, those butts go downstream and wind up in the ocean, where sea creatures, especially sea turtles, eat them and starve because the butts fill them up with no nutrition.

I wonder if this was considered in the actual price per pack?


Are all cigarettes produced in a year smoked? Also, what about the increase in productivity by employees who have elevated serotonin levels due to nicotine consumption?


Aaron -

My first thought was similar in that there is a higher particulate to gas ratio in emissions of tobacco smoke than in modern automobiles, so the comparison of only particulate emissions is an incomplete analysis of the relative environmental impact. Another factor is that the higher particulate matter, depending on the type (and I'm no expert here), may reflect solar radiation and reduce the heat absorbed by the earth (and trapped by greenhouse gasses), thus lowering global warming.

Johnny E

And don't forget the freakonomic impact of careless smokers in regards to forest fires, brush fires, house fires, apartment fires, medical costs of burn treatments, distracted driving, etc.

Then there's the cleaning costs where smoke stinks up and leaves burn marks on clothes and in motel rooms and other public spaces. Even with ash trays it's messy.

Eric M. Jones

"84,878 tons of particulate air pollution annually...."

Few people have any clue about what this means. But here's my attempt to explain it:

A cubic meter of air weighs 1.2 kg. So a cubic kilometer of air weighs 1.2 kg X 1000 X 1000 X 1000, or 1.2 billion kg, or 2.64 billion pounds. Divide by 2000 lbs/ton and you get 1.32 million tons. So why should I worry about 85,000 tons? That's less than 6.4 percent of the weight of one cubic kilometer of air.

But quit smoking anyway....and use the metric system.

By the way...The entirety of humanity weighs as much as only fifty clouds.

It's funny that economists won't examine numbers that don't represent either money, production or population.



Smoking is actually associated with a decrease in worker productivity because people who smoke get sick more often and take more sick days. I'd imagine they also have an earlier date of retirement/leaving the workforce for health-related reasons.

Eric the Red

As it happens I quit smoking not too long ago for entirely selfish reasons (aren't all reasons ultimately selfish?) but the constant anti-smoke blah is annoying.

"Assuming all 5.5 trillion cigarettes produced around the world each year get smoked"

Assuming the moon is made out of cheese. Assuming and so on and so on. Assuming BASED ON WHAT?

Also, the cigarette trash section talks mainly about filters - not the tobacco. I know the filters are a problem (nonbiodegradable for most brands) but tobacco itself or the rolling paper shouldn't be a big problem.


a) smokers die younger, saving pension plans immense amounts of money.
b) tobacco plants absorb the same carbon as they grow that they give off when smoked.


To hazard a guess, I would imagine the land clearing and curing processes involved contribute far more to emissions than the actual smoking of the cigarette.

I don't think you will help your case by scrutinising this article's stats too closely. The true numbers are probably much more horrific.

Sorry if anti-smokers are annoying sometimes. So are bushfires, forking out millions for other people's stupidity, land-clearing, stench, litter, death, disease. Having to listen to a little bit of whining is a small price to pay.


Beware the unintended consequences. While the direct and indirect costs of the tobacco industry are borne by society at large, a significant portion of the tax base depends upon "sin" taxes. The functions they fund don't go away with success in stopping smoking. So another sin will have to be identified for legalization and taxation (perhaps marijuana or prostititution?).


This trend of bashing cigarettes is very annoying. People like to pick on smokers because they are easy targets to attack so people can feel better about themselves.

Your comparison between cars and smokes is completely apples and oranges, as a previous commenter stated.

Cigarette butts starving sea animals? Oh please. Boohoohoo. I'll betcha the plastic particulates from your grocery bags are killing a hell of a lot more animals that my cigarette butt.

And forest fires? Cry me a freaking river. It hardly ever happens and you know it.

And don't get me started about the second hand smoke lies.


Rational arguments won't convince anybody to quit smoking, but they contribute to making it an undesirable activity. If nothing else, it's more fodder for their family members to constantly bug smokers to quit.

Plus it's easy and fun to pick on those silly smokers.


I hate smoking but I hate lying anti-smokers even more. Let's do the math:
$222 per pack of cigarettes = $10 per cigarette (pack size varies)
$10 x 5.5 trillion = $55 trillion
Size of the world economy in 2007 was $54 trillion.

In other words, the mortality cost of cigarettes is allegedly the same as the total world economy. This is obvious crap propagated by zealots who prefer scare tactics to reality.


Speaking of non-particulate emissions, what about all the carbon dioxide that is converted into oxygen as the tobacco plants grow? Is that being netted out? Just a thought...