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Tobacco Takes Toll on Environment

Doctors and scientists have had the same message about tobacco and smoking for decades now — using tobacco is harmful for smokers and the people around them. But many haven't heard the message, or they're not convinced.

A new publication makes the argument against tobacco in a new way. A group of anti-cancer organizations have compiled information and data about smoking and its effects into a new online resource — the Tobacco Atlas.

Doctor Thomas Glynn heads the international cancer control section at the American Cancer Society. He says they compiled the Atlas because they wanted to present information about the health effects of tobacco in a new way… and get the word out to the billion men and about 250 million women around the world who light up every day.

"There is no one who smokes for very long who is not going to become sickened by it in one way or another, either from a lung disease such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, or from a cancer, or from heart disease," Glynn says.

"There is virtually no one who is immune from becoming sick from it. We also know that as many as half of people who use tobacco over a lifetime will die because from their tobacco use."

The Tobacco Atlas is available both online and as a book. The publication displays data about smokers and the physical effects of smoking. But, Glynn says the negative effects of tobacco extend beyond simply degraded health. He says when the authors compiled the information, they found that tobacco contributes to environmental degradation.

"There are about 10 million acres globally devoted to tobacco growth. And tobacco, as any agronomist knows, really depletes the soil. It takes a lot of manpower to grow it and to process it," Glynn says.

"A field that has been used for tobacco is often unusable for anything else for some period of time. It also requires a lot of curing, which means a lot of burning, which means a lot of trees. And, so deforestation also becomes an issue."

Glynn says even though there's so much information about the problems associated with smoking, more and more people are taking up the habit — especially in the developing world.

"What we're seeing in the low and middle income countries, is a very sharp increase as the tobacco industry has moved its focus offshore," he says. "That's where we are beginning to see the increase."

Glynn says tobacco companies are also marketing to women more and more.

"As an example, in China, about 4… 5… 6 percent of women across China are using tobacco," he says.

"But yet in places like Shanghai where tobacco companies are focusing we are starting to see figures like 20 or 25 percent."

Glynn says the American Cancer Society plans to update the publication every three years… but they'll add more information to the online version as they find it.

You can find the Tobacco Atlas at