VEGANISM is on the rise with the number of people in the UK switching to a plant-based diet having quadrupled in the past four years.
While some make the switch for purely dietary reasons for many veganism is an ethical choice based on concerns about animal welfare and the impact of meat production on the environment.
There is plenty of information out there about cutting meat, dairy, fish and poultry products out of your diet and embracing a vegan lifestyle free from products derived from or tested on animals – from cosmetics to clothing.
But what about if you’re a smoker? Are cigarettes a vegan product?
The essential ingredients 🚬
The basic measure of whether a product is vegan is whether it contains any ingredients derived from animals or their by-products.
When it comes to cigarettes, that question is difficult to answer because the ingredients used to make them are often unregulated and non-transparent such as any additives or processing aids used in the production process.
What we do know is that Castoreum, a chemical found in the glands of beavers has be used previously in the production of tobacco cigarettes to give them a sweet flavour.
Castoreum cannot be harvested from a living beaver – the only way to obtain the chemical is to kill the animal.
As tobacco companies can be notoriously secretive about the ingredients they use, we do not know for sure whether castoreum continues to be used.
Given this level of uncertainty, cigarettes could present an ethical dilemma for vegan smokers.
Blue planet 🌎
Concerns over the environmental impact of meat production drive many to adopt a vegan lifestyle. But what about the huge impact the tobacco industry has on the environment? In 2014 alone 32.4million tonnes of green tobacco leaf were cultivated on four million hectares of land across 125 countries, producing 6.48 million tonnes of dry tobacco which was manufactured in almost 500 factories worldwide.
Significant waste and emissions are produced at every stage of the supply chain and globally the tobacco industry generates around 84 million tonnes of C02 equivalent. Tobacco growing involves the use of pesticides, fertilizers and growth regulators and the tobacco crops deplete soil nutrients taking up more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than other major crops.
Once the cigarettes have been produced they continue to wreak havoc on the environment. Cigarette litter is the number one most littered item in the world. Cigarette butts contain plastic and take up to 12 years to biodegrade. Many find their way into the sea and waterways and are swallowed by animals, leading to poisoning, malnutrition and death due to the tar and chemicals they contain.
Smoking and animal testing 🚬
Given that animal welfare is one of the major reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle, vegans should be made aware that most tobacco products are or have been tested on animals.
To give one example, according to the animal rights organisation Peta, “RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris have conducted tests in recent years in which animals were forced to inhale cigarette smoke, eat tobacco and have cigarette tar smeared onto their bare skin”.
It is important to bear in mind that RJ Reynolds is the parent company of American Spirit which claims to produce vegan tobacco.