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Butt really? The environmental impact of cigarettes



Are cigarette butts more than just an unsightly litter problem? Do the chemicals leached out of them just ‘go away’—biodegraded and diluted by our streams, rivers and oceans so that we can forget about them? This special supplement of Tobacco Control brings together the currently known science about cigarette butt waste and sets the stage for a new research agenda that can unite the tobacco control community with environmental activists who have long been appalled by the single most commonly collected waste item found each year on beach clean-ups. In addition, butts are also reported to comprise an estimated 25–50 percent of all collected litter items from roads and streets—making them a concern for the quality of urban life. Cigarette butts contain all the carcinogenic chemicals, pesticides, and nicotine that make tobacco use the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, yet they are commonly, unconsciously and inexcusably dumped by the trillions (5.6 trillions and counting) into the global environment each year. In this issue, Moerman and Potts demonstrate the presence of heavy metals in cigarette butt leachates—the …
Butt really? The environmental
impact of cigarettes
Cheryl G Healton,
K Michael Cummings,
Richard J O’Connor,
Thomas E Novotny
Are cigarette butts more than just an
unsightly litter problem?Do the chem-
icals leached out of them just go
awaydbiodegraded and diluted by our
streams, rivers and oceans so that we can
forget about them?This special supple-
ment of Tobacco Control brings together the
currently known science about cigarette
butt waste and sets the stage for a new
research agenda that can unite the tobacco
control community with environmental
activists who have long been appalled by
the single most commonly collected waste
item found each year on beach clean-ups.
In addition, butts are also reported to
comprise an estimated 25e50 percent of
all collected litter items from roads and
streetsdmaking them a concern for the
quality of urban life. Cigarette butts
contain all the carcinogenic chemicals,
pesticides, and nicotine that make tobacco
use the leading cause of preventable death
worldwide, yet they are commonly,
unconsciously and inexcusably dumped
by the trillions (5.6 trillions and counting)
into the global environment each year.
In this issue, Moerman and Potts
demonstrate the presence of heavy metals
in cigarette butt leachatesdthe toxic soup
produced when butts are soaked in water;
Slaughter shows that only one cigarette
butt will kill half the sh exposed to
leachates in a controlled laboratory
setting; Harris describes the history of
how tobacco companies used lters as
a marketing tool in an effort to allay fears
about the harm caused by cigarettes, even
after the companies knew that lters did
not reduce risk. Smith and Novotny reveal
the tobacco industrys long-standing
concern about the cigarette butt problem
and how it has responded by shifting
responsibility for the job of cleanup back
to its victims. Schneider et al analyse
tobacco product litter as an economic
issue, with costs of cleanup borne by
communities instead of the tobacco
manufacturers. Barnes describes some
important regulatory and environmental
principles that should underlie efforts to
mitigate cigarette butt waste, including
the Precautionary Principledwhich states
that environmental harm does not have to
be proved to justify preventing potential
exposuresdand Extended Producer
Responsibilitydwhich asserts that those
who produce a toxic waste product should
be held accountable for its cleanup.
To grapple with toxic cigarette butt
waste, we can look for lessons in other
interventions against environmental
<Bottle bills, in which states apply
a deposit-return scheme, have greatly
reduced waste from disposable bottles,
cans and plastic containers; the elec-
tronics industry collects a fee on
computers and other equipment to be
used for recycling these devices instead
of simply throwing them into landlls.
Waste fees or a deposit-return scheme
could be applied to cigarettes to recoup
the costs of cleanup in individual
<Plastic bags have been banned in
a number of communities, and plastic
tampon inserters have been considered
for regulation by several states
as environmental hazards and beach
blight. The plastic (cellulose acetate)
cigarette lter could also be banned
to reduce a huge source of unsightly,
non-biodegradable plastic waste.
<Mandatory take-back policies, such as
in those in the European Union for
electronics or as proposed in San
Francisco for pharmaceuticals that
have expired, may be implemented to
reduce cigarette butt waste, invoking
the principle of Extended Producer
<Prohibitions on smoking in enclosed
spaces have reduced indoor air pollu-
tion and related health risks for
millions. Certainly, prohibitions on
smoking in outdoor public places,
including parks, beaches and even
outdoor urban areas will prevent some
butt waste owing into our aquatic
environments. College campuses, as
suggested by Sawdey et al with the
current wave of green consciousness,
should be the vanguards of this
effortdthey should all be smoke free,
healthy environments, with no butts
about them.
We need to determine which chemicals
in combusted cigarette waste kill aquatic
organisms and whether these chemicals
can be detected, much like discarded anti-
biotics and other chemicals are detected, in
our water systems. Researchers should also
examine the social and economic impacts
of cigarette waste, including costs to
localities for butt clean-up and degradation
of urban environments.
While more research would certainly be
helpful to dene the scope of the problem,
science-based interventions should now
address what is clearly an unnecessary and
preventable environmental plague in our
communities. If lters on cigarettes dont
make smoking less hazardous why should
they be used at all?Filters don't make
smoking any safer although most smokers
today would seem to still think otherwise.
Butt really, what is needed now is for
tobacco control and environmental activ-
ists to work together to hold the global
cigarette industry accountable for the
toxic mess they've caused. It is their
products, when used as directed and then
discarded as part of the smoking ritual,
that pollute our environment, not just our
hearts and lungs. Cigarette butt waste is
the last socially acceptable form of
littering in what has become an increas-
ingly health and environmentally
conscious world. We challenge our friends
and colleagues in tobacco control and
environmental change movements to join
forces and nd solutions for eliminating
this especially toxic form of trash.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not
externally peer reviewed.
Tobacco Control 2011;20:i1.
This paper is freely available online under the BMJ
Journals unlocked scheme, see http://tobaccocontrol.
American Legacy Foundation, Washington, DC, USA;
Department of Health Behavior, Roswell Park Cancer
Institute, Buffalo, New York, USA;
Graduate School of
Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego,
California, USA
Correspondence to Dr Cheryl G Healton, CEO, Legacy,
American Legacy Foundation, 1724 Massachusetts Ave,
NW, Washington, DC 20036 USA;
Tobacco Control May 2011 Vol 20 Suppl 1 i1
... With reference to post-consumption waste, trillions of cigarette butts are "commonly, unconsciously and inexcusably" dumped into the global environment each year [16]. Cigarette butts, as the most common form of litter in the world causes no simple land pollution [17]. ...
... Cigarette butts, as the most common form of litter in the world causes no simple land pollution [17]. They contain all the carcinogenic chemicals, pesticides, and nicotine that tobacco use generates [16]. Also tobacco product waste contains all the toxins, nicotine, and carcinogens found in tobacco products [18]. ...
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The global campaign by the World Health Organization in the context of the World No Tobacco Day 2022 bears the theme “Tobacco: A threat to environment”. It raises concerns on environmental issues related to tobacco use which is also a public health problem. This is a call to tobacco control advocates to work together with environment protection activists to federate multi-stakeholder collaborative advocacy work for stringent tobacco control strategies worldwide.
... Depending on where the cigarette butt is discarded, it may require around eighteen months to ten years for the cigarette butt to decompose (Bahagijo, 2020). A previous study pointed out that cigarette butts account for 25-50% of all litter gathered from streets and roads, with an estimated 5.6 trillion cigarette butts dumped into the environment each year (Healton et al., 2011). As shown by research, cigarette consumption could surge from 6 trillion to 9 trillion sticks by 2025 (WHO, 2019), with substantial environmental consequences (WHO, 2019(WHO, , 2017Zafeiridou et al., 2018). ...
... The emphasis on aquatic assays is in part due to the common use of standard aquatic organisms in toxicity testing and the ease of testing CB leachates in aquatic environments, and corresponds with the frequency of reports of CB litter along coasts and shorelines (e.g. Healton et al. , 2011 ;Novotny & Slaughter, 2014 ;Araújo & Costa, 2019 ). ...
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Cigarette butts (CBs) contain a plethora of chemicals, including many that are toxic. Although numerous studies have demonstrated the toxicity of CBs to aquatic organisms, there is less evidence that terrestrial organisms are severely impacted. Because CBs are commonly discarded on the ground, ground-dwelling organisms such as land snails may be especially affected. Many land snails are generalist detritivores/herbivores and ingest a variety of plant secondary compounds as they feed. This evolutionary exposure may render CBs (made principally of cured tobacco leaves) less toxic to these land snails than CBs are to less exposed aquatic animals. We investigated this possibility of reduced effects using a new behavioural assay to test the choice of ‘flavoured’ vertical resting sites in the land snail Cornu aspersum, which commonly rests on upright surfaces. In four experiments, regions of container walls were coated with different concentrations of CB and cured tobacco effluents, and effluents from three tree species and cured tobacco. Snails avoided high CB and tobacco effluent concentrations, which is consistent with toxicity. However, snails preferentially rested on dilute concentrations of both CBs and tobacco. Preference among tree leaf effluents was less evident, with a trend towards snails preferring the more readily eaten maple than the less readily eaten oak. Selection of the preferred tobacco concentration did not differ from that of tree leaves, indicating that C. aspersum was not repelled by dilute tobacco effluent. These results indicate that compounds leaching from discarded CBs may have little effect on snails and perhaps other soil organisms under environmentally realistic conditions.
... Worldwide, cigarette butt are one of the most common solid residues found in public areas, corresponding to values in the range of 25% to 50% of the amount of waste collected in these areas (Dobaradaran et al. 2017;Healton et al. 2011).This type of residue is composed of a cellulose acetate material, which is used to filter toxic substances present in cigarette smoke (Novotny et al. 2015;Wang et al. 2020). In this sense, this residue has limited potential for biodegradation, due to the high acetate concentration, which makes it inert to the microbial degradation process, requiring a long time for the degradation (Puls, Wilson & Hölter. ...
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This study aimed to evaluate a nonwoven (NW) production and performance from cellulose acetate fiber from cigarette butts andapplied to a filtration system for surface water pre-treatment. The system had a surface area of 692 cm³, cellulose acetate from cigarette butt as filter media, was used and was fed with surface water from a pond. In order to evaluate the treatment performance of the filtration system were evaluated in the raw water (RW) and the filtered water (FW) the classical parameter of water quality as turbidity, total suspended solids (TSS), apparent color, true color, and total organic carbon (TOC) and heavy metals (iron, copper, and cadmium). Moreover, the presence of nicotine was investigated in the FW. The results showed a mean removal efficiency in order to 62.01%, 54.42%, 50.36 %, 6.73%, and 5.20% for turbidity, TSS, apparent color, true color, and TOC, respectively. The removal of metals varied in the order of 72.26%, 9.61%, and 2.12% for cadmium, iron, and copper, respectively. The presence of nicotine in RW and FW was not identified. In this way, besides reducing the negative environmental impacts caused by cigarette butts present in the environment, the developed technology showed potential for removing pollutants present in surface waters.
... For instance, cigarette butts which are by far the most littered item around the globe -with approximately 15 billion cigarettes improperly discarded in nature every dayare a major source of land and aquatic pollution that can have dramatic toxic effects on entire ecosystems (WHO, 2017;Novotny et al., 2009;Healton et al., 2011). The presence of litter in the urban environment can also deepen existing economic and health inequalities by depressing local investment or discouraging outdoor physical activity in highly littered neighbourhoods (Blackman et al., 2001;Balfour and Kaplan, 2002). ...
The works compiled in this thesis are concrete examples of how methods, insights and evidence from behavioural science and economics could enlighten policy makers wishing to understand and reinforce pro-environmentalism. The 1st part is an application of methods and insights from psychology to environmental public policy and is the product of a collaboration with policy makers in the French Parisian region, to tackle two polluting behaviours: littering and household combustion. The 1st chapter shows how laboratory experiments using psychometric methods from vision research could be crucial to inform policy makers on how to maximise the effectiveness of littering interventions, by quantifying the increase in visual salience following a change in the colour of trash bins in an urban setting. The 2nd chapter, using a field experimental setting, shows that while information provision is not enough to change household combustion behaviour, increasing the salience of indoor pollution by combining feedback provision and social comparison is effective in changing behaviour and decreasing indoor air pollution. The 2nd part of this thesis examines the relationship between socioeconomic status and the psychological mechanisms underlying pro-environmentalism and behavioural interventions. The 3rd chapter shows that the positive association between socioeconomic status and pro-environmental attitudes is partially mediated by individual time preferences. Chapter 4 is a short review suggesting that socioeconomic backgrounds could moderate the effectiveness of popular environmental behavioural interventions that leverage on biases likely to be heterogeneous across income groups.
... The Ocean Conservancy reported collecting 4.2 million CBs during their 2019 annual International Coastal Cleanup, the second most collected item of the event [79]. Given their ubiquitous presence and persistence in the environment, there is growing interest in assessing the environmental impacts of discarded CBs [80][81][82][83][84]. ...
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While the impacts of cigarette smoking on human health are widely known, a less recognized impact of tobacco product use and disposal is environmental pollution. This review discusses the current literature related to cigarette and e-cigarette contamination in the context of environmental sources and impacts, with a focus on the documented influences on biota, ranging from bacteria to mammals. Cigarette butts and electronic cigarette components can leach contaminants into soil, water, and air. Cellulose acetate cigarette filters comprising the butts are minimally degradable and are a source of bulk plastic and microplastic pollution, especially in aquatic ecosystems where they tend to accumulate. Cigarette combustion and aerosol production during e-cigarette use result in air contamination from sidestream, exhaled, and thirdhand pathways. The chemical byproducts of tobacco product use contaminate wastewater effluents, landfill leachates, and urban storm drains. The widespread detection of nicotine and cotinine in the environment illustrates the potential for large-scale environmental impacts of tobacco product waste. Studies show that cigarette butt leachate and nicotine are toxic to microbes, plants, benthic organisms, bivalves, zooplankton, fish, and mammals ; however, there remain critical knowledge gaps related to the environmental impacts of tobacco product waste on environmental health and ecosystem functioning.
Background Regulation of filter ventilation (FV) has been proposed to reduce misperceptions that ventilation reduces the health risks of smoking. We describe smoking behaviour and exposure after switching to a cigarette brand variant (CBV) with a different FV level. Methods Wave 1 (2013–2014) of the Population Assessment of Tobacco Use and Health Study was merged with FV levels of participants’ CBV and restricted to adults with a usual CBV, smoked daily and included in wave 4 (2016–2017; n=371). Generalised estimation equations method modelled changes in FV and cigarettes per day (CPD), quit interest, total nicotine equivalents (TNE) and total NNAL (biomarker of a tobacco-specific carcinogen). FV change was defined as a change in CBV resulting in a ≥20% increase or decrease in FV. Secondary analyses used FV change based on an increase from <5% to >10% or a decrease from >10% to <5%. Results A non-significant pattern indicating an increase of 0.97 and 0.49 CPD was observed among those who switched to a CBV and increased FV by ≥20% and from <5% to >10%, respectively. A non-significant pattern indicating a decrease of 1.31 and 1.97 CPD was observed among those who decreased FV by ≥20% and from >10% to <5%, respectively. Changes in quit interest and biomarkers were also non-significant with one exception: greater reduction in TNE among those who decreased from >10% to <5% FV versus no change (−8.51 vs −0.25 nmol/mg creatinine; p=0.0447). Conclusions Switching to CBV with lower FV does not appear to increase exposure and may even reduce exposure for some. Additional investigations are recommended to confirm these descriptive findings.
Technical Report
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Objective To synthesize learnings from four national tobacco control investment cases conducted in the Americas (Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Suriname) under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) 2030 project, to describe results and how national health authorities have used the cases, and to discuss implications for the role of investment cases in advancing tobacco control. Methods We draw on findings from four national investment cases that included 1) a cost-of-illness analysis calculating the health and economic burden of tobacco use, 2) a return-on-investment analysis of implementing key tobacco control demand reduction measures, and 3) a subsidiary analysis of one tobacco control topic of national interest (e.g., equity implications of cigarette taxation). Co-authors reported how cases have been used to advance tobacco control. Results In Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Suriname, tobacco use causes social and economic losses equivalent to between 1.0 to 1.8 percent of GDP. Across these countries, implementing WHO FCTC demand reduction measures would save an average of 11 400 lives per year over the next 15 years. Benefits of the measures would far outweigh the costs of implementation and enforcement. Governments are using the cases to advance tobacco control, including to improve tobacco control laws and their enforcement, strengthen tobacco taxation, prioritize tobacco control planning, coordinate a multisectoral response, and engage political leaders. Conclusions National investment cases can help to strengthen tobacco control in countries, including by increasing public and political support for implementation of the WHO FCTC and by informing effective planning, legislation, coordination and financing.
Experiment Findings
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The most prevalent sort of trash on planet is cigarette butts. We are practically surrounded by this rubbish. Water readily leaches the harmful compounds from the butts of used cigarettes that have been absorbed by cellulose acetate filters and detected in the remaining tobacco. The collecting, cleaning, recycling, and reuse of cigarette filters or butts are the main topics of this study. We advise turning wasted cigarette butts into a useful product. The non-biodegradable cigarette filters have an impact on water bodies and discharge toxins into the deposited soil. Therefore, we advise putting the butts to reuse in order to guarantee proper disposal.
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