Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The environmental impact of discarded cigarette butts

Not much need to add anything here, but this is a worthy Earth Day-related news release that has crossed my desk:

New research released today further demonstrates the negative impact that cigarette filters and discarded cigarette butts have on the environment. Cigarette butts contain heavy metals that can leach into waterways, posing a threat to aquatic life.

The new data is part of a special supplement – funded by the national public health foundation Legacy® – in the journal Tobacco Control. In observance of Earth Day, Legacy urges smokers to quit smoking, and if they can't, to properly dispose of cigarette butts and filters.

Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, and cigarette filters/butts are the No. 1 littered item found on beaches and in urban environments.

According to environmental cleanup reports, nearly 2 million cigarettes or cigarette filters/butts were picked up internationally from beaches and inland waterways as part of the annual International Coastal Cleanup in 2010.

This number includes more than one million from the United States alone, underscoring the fact that cigarette butts play a major role in polluting the already taxed environment.

According to the new research, cigarette butts have potentially toxic effects on ecosystems, for example, in one laboratory test, one cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water was lethal to half of the fish exposed. Some other new research findings include:

• Poison centers report hundreds of cases of cigarette butt consumption among children under 6 years old, with some cases of moderate toxicity due to nicotine poisoning.

• Tobacco products are the single largest type of litter collected along US roadways and on beaches.

• Tobacco industry research reveals that there might be misconceptions that cigarette filters are readily biodegradable or inconsequential as litter. However, in reality, even under ideal conditions, cigarette butts can take years to degrade, merely breaking up into small particles of plastic, toxic waste.

• Cigarette litter clean-up costs can be substantial to local authorities.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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