UNEP, Secretariat of the WHO FCTC partner to combat microplastics in cigarettes

UNEP, Secretariat of the WHO FCTC partner to combat microplastics in cigarettes

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a partnership with the Secretariat of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to raise awareness and drive action on the extensive environmental and human health impacts of microplastics in cigarette filters.

Through an extensive social media campaign, the partnership will aim to engage influencers, UNEP’s Goodwill Ambassadors and Young Champions of the Earth to raise awareness of the issues surrounding microplastics. It will also adopt a political advocacy angle, drawing upon the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC’s expertise. By highlighting a recent European Union directive requiring all tobacco products with plastic filters to be labelled clearly, the initiative will encourage citizens to advocate for similar changes globally.

The partnership is facilitated through UNEP’s Clean Seas campaign – a global coalition comprised of 63 countries devoted to ending marine plastic pollution. It weds the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC’s experience on the health and public policy dimensions of tobacco products with UNEP’s research and advocacy on plastic pollution.

Every year, the tobacco industry produces six trillion cigarettes that are consumed by one billion smokers worldwide. These cigarettes contain filters mainly composed of microplastics known as cellulose acetate fibres. When improperly disposed of, cigarette butts are broken down by factors such as sunlight and moisture and release microplastics, heavy metals and many other chemicals, impacting ecosystems’ health and services.

Cigarette butts are the most discarded waste item worldwide, accounting for approximately 766.6 million kilograms of toxic trash each year. They are also the most common plastic litter on beaches, making marine ecosystems more susceptible to microplastic leakages. When ingested, the hazardous chemicals in microplastics cause long-term mortality in marine life, including birds, fish, mammals, plants and reptiles. These microplastics enter the food chain and are associated with serious human health impacts, which can include changes to genetics, brain development, respiration rates and more.

“The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC has the technical expertise of the impact of tobacco products on not just human health but also on environment,” said Atif Butt, UNEP’s Chief of Public Advocacy. “By joining UNEP’s and the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC’s expertise together under the Clean Seas activation on microplastics, we aim to highlight how our health is intrinsically linked to that of our planet.”

Clean Seas and the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC are committed to enabling meaningful change on microplastics by raising awareness and driving policy. This partnership signals an important first step towards resolving the critical health and environmental impacts of microplastics in cigarette filters.

“The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC is delighted to participate in the UNEP Clean Seas Campaign and is committed to help raise awareness about the issue of hidden plastics in cigarettes,” said Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC. “I urge all of you to join this campaign. Let’s all do our part to ensure our seas and ocean – together with all their inhabitants – are protected for future generations.”


About the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About the Clean Seas campaign

UNEP’s Clean Seas campaign connects and rallies individuals, civil society groups, industry and governments to catalyze change and transform habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and its negative impacts.

About the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC)

The WHO FCTC is the first global public health treaty and is one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaties in United Nations history. It was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic and is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health. The Convention represents a milestone for the promotion of public health and provides new legal dimensions for international health cooperation.

About the UNEP’s work on plastic pollution

UNEP and the Ellen McArthur Foundation co-lead the Global Commitment, which has established a common vision of a circular economy for plastics. It has 500 signatories – including plastics producers, financial institutions and governments – who have committed to ambitious 2025 targets to reach circularity.

UNEP’s Global Partnership on Marine Litter is a multi-stakeholder partnership that brings together all actors working to prevent marine litter and plastic pollution. UNEP is developing a Digital Platform to share knowledge and experience and catalyze action.

Source: WHO FCTC