Tob Control 21:191-196 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050318
  • Reviews

Environmental health impacts of tobacco farming: a review of the literature

  1. Thomas E Novotny4
  1. 1Non-Communicable Disease Prevention program, International Development Research Centre, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2Alliance for the Control of Tobacco Use, Brasília/DF, Brazil
  3. 3Department of Forest Economics, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania
  4. 4Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Natacha Lecours, International Development Research Centre, 150 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 0B2, Canada; nlecours{at}
  1. Contributors All authors contributed to conception and design, acquisition of data or analysis and interpretation of data for this article. All authors have drafted the article or revised it critically for important intellectual content.

  • Received 14 November 2011
  • Accepted 6 December 2011


Objective To review the literature on environmental health impacts of tobacco farming and to summarise the findings and research gaps in this field.

Methods A standard literature search was performed using multiple electronic databases for identification of peer-reviewed articles. The internet and organisational databases were also used to find other types of documents (eg, books and reports). The reference lists of identified relevant documents were reviewed to find additional sources.

Results The selected studies documented many negative environmental impacts of tobacco production at the local level, often linking them with associated social and health problems. The common agricultural practices related to tobacco farming, especially in low-income and middle-income countries, lead to deforestation and soil degradation. Agrochemical pollution and deforestation in turn lead to ecological disruptions that cause a loss of ecosystem services, including land resources, biodiversity and food sources, which negatively impact human health. Multinational tobacco companies' policies and practices contribute to environmental problems related to tobacco leaf production.

Conclusions Development and implementation of interventions against the negative environmental impacts of tobacco production worldwide are necessary to protect the health of farmers, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries. Transitioning these farmers out of tobacco production is ultimately the resolution to this environmental health problem. In order to inform policy, however, further research is needed to better quantify the health impacts of tobacco farming and evaluate the potential alternative livelihoods that may be possible for tobacco farmers globally.


  • Funding The International Development Research Centre provided funds and research supervision to NL, Research Award Recipient 2010.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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