Post D: Cigarettes from cradle to grave

Ambon is an eclectic melting pot of old and new, a city built and rebuilt, a city of perseverance and determination. Interestingly the physical act of someone smoking a cigarette was hard to come by when observing the city centre. Between murals by street artists and friendly faces of children on the street, tobacco has instead asserted its presence in the city in discreet ways, with remnants of cigarettes being dotted through the streets and an amalgamation of old and new cigarette advertising taking over advertisement spaces (see figures 1 and 2). The act of smoking a cigarette lasts a mere few minutes and is a relatively small part of its life-cycle, one which at every stage has a carbon footprint that contributes to climate change and causes dire health complications for its users (World Health Organisation 2018).

Figure 1: Degraded cigarette advertisements observed in the local area
Figure 2: Cigarette butts and cigarette packaging noticed on a walk around the local area

Beyond the well documented health impacts of smoking, the production and impacts of the disposal of cigarettes is less widely known. We are far more familiar with how cigarettes impact the body, whilst the actual usage of a cigarette only forming 1/6th of its life-cycle (refer to figure 3). It places an immense pressure on natural ecosystems at all stages, with every one million cigarettes smoked contributing 6kg to terrestrial ecotoxicity levels and about 80ks to both freshwater and marine ecotoxicity levels (World Health Organisation 2018). Considering the 342 billion cigarettes manufactured in Indonesia every year, the rate at which tobacco is infiltrating the city of Ambon and its waterways is devastating (see figure 3). Cigarette butts can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to degrade as they are 95% cellulose acetate, a type of plastic (Novotny, T. E., Lum, K., Smith, E., Wang, V., & Barnes, R. 2009). Cigarette filters are also the single most collected item in international beach cleanups and the contamination that occurs from cigarette toxins are harmful to all living things which may be exposed to them.

Figure 3: Global cigarette production and consumption supply chain
(World Health Organisation 2018).

The life-cycle of cigarettes is complex and as both designers and consumers, we have the tools to influence only a small but vital part of this process. There are possibilities for policies to be implemented in Ambon which may begin to ease the issue, which may possibly include increasing fines (Novotny, T. E., Lum, K., Smith, E., Wang, V., & Barnes, R. 2009) or creating achievable ways to dispose of cigarette packaging in a way that will keep them clear of Ambon’s rivers and coastline. This may take form as cigarette-specific disposal services or perhaps a more drastic change in legislation, following in the footsteps of Malaysia and making smoking in open-air restaurants and bars illegal and creating designated smoking areas with disposal services.

Perhaps the long-term environmental impacts have to take a back seat however, while the more immediate health risks are addressed – but at what cost to an already fragile ecosystem?


Novotny, T. E., Lum, K., Smith, E., Wang, V., & Barnes, R. (2009). Cigarettes butts and the case for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste. International journal of environmental research and public health, vol. 6, pp. 1691-705.

Tabacco Atlas (2018), Indonesia Country Tobacco Facts, Available at:, Accessed 17 January 2019

World Health Organisation (2018) Cigarette smoking: An assessment of tobacco’s global environmental footprint across its entire supply chain, and policy strategies to reduce it, Available at:, Accessed 17 January 2019

World Health Organisation (2018), Global cigarette production and consumption supply chain, Available at:, Accessed 18 January 2019

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