Cigarette Butts: The Smoking Gun on Environmental Pollution

Did you know cigarette butts are the number one littered item on the planet? They beat out some pretty tough competition too: discarded water bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, caps, and utensils. Mountains upon mountains of these items clog up our oceans and waterways, not to mention our roads and gutters.

According to, “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about the negative impact of cigarette butt litter,” billions of butts are flicked out on our roads, lawns, sidewalks, beaches, and other public places on a daily basis.

Here are several more startling facts about cigarette butt pollution that can be easily found by doing a quick Google search:

But the eyesore of all this unsightly cigarette litter is not the only thing scientists are concerned about. The presence of discarded filters also has a toxic effect on the global environment.

The Hidden Dangers of Cigarette Butt Litter
One study published in the journal Tobacco Control entitled “Butt Really? The Environmental Impact of Cigarettes,” argues that the real danger of cigarettes is the unseen hazards that threaten life on our fragile planet.

Discarded cigarettes leach harmful chemicals into the water supply through the process of rain, poisoning plants and animals alike. In fact, the study showed that a single fish could die from being exposed to the leachates —“the toxic soup produced when butts are soaked in water”— of just one cigarette.

And regrettably, cigarette butts continue to be the last socially acceptable form of littering in a progressively more environmentally-conscious world. According to Dr. Cheryl Healton of the American Legacy Foundation and contributing author of the study: “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.”

Perhaps what is most unsettling is that this information is readily available to the public, yet the problem goes unchecked. One reason, according to the report, may be a lack of accountability: “What is needed now is for tobacco control and environmental activists to work together to hold the global cigarette industry accountable for the toxic mess they’ve caused.”

While this certainly may be the primary factor of why cigarette litter continues to be so pervasive, the average smoker can’t take on the entire cigarette industry alone. So, what realistic actions can a smoker take?

What You Can Do About It
If you are a smoker, a simple temporary change you can make to make sure you aren’t contributing to the massive litter problem is to deposit all used cigarettes appropriately, rather than at a roadside or sidewalk. In fact, some websites even offer to send smokers free pocket ashtrays so they can dispose of their butts safely while on the go.

But like any other pollutant, the permanent solution to the cigarette butt problem lies in either eliminating its use (like what has been done with plastic bags in many communities) or encouraging smokers to dispose of butts responsibly (such as the largely successful ‘Bottle Bills’ program which pays people who return disposable bottles and cans in participating states).

Marketing campaigns and incentives aimed at getting smokers to discard their butts properly can help bring awareness to the issue and possibly put a dent in the unimaginably large number of filters polluting the environment every day; however, ultimately the problem won’t go away completely until cigarettes do. It’s as simple as cause and effect.

This is where many environmentally-conscious smokers lose heart.

While smokers, like everyone else, have a vested interest in passing down a safe and healthy world their children can call home, the decision to quit cigarettes is a tough resolution —one that many smokers may not yet be prepared to make.

Fortunately, with the innovation of the electronic cigarette, smokers can take a valuable step in reducing the impact of their habit on the environment, while simultaneously continuing to enjoy a routine that looks and tastes just like regular smoking.

E-cigarettes are a two-piece technology that vaporizes liquid nicotine and emits harmless, clean water vapor, as opposed to dirty cigarette smoke that is laden with more than 4,000 toxic chemicals. Also, just one e-cigarette is equal to about 40 regular cigarettes, so users can reuse their device rather than wastefully toss them out after one use. And when it finally comes time to get a new e-cigarette, you can recycle the device, along with cell phones, batteries, and other e-waste.

From when a tobacco cigarette is manufactured, to when it is used and discarded, every part of a smoking has a negative effect on our beloved planet. One by one, we can start changing how we smoke and gradually get cigarette butts out of our oceans, our streets, and our lives.

If you are an environmentally-conscious smoker who is ready to take steps towards leaving a healthy world for your children and grandchildren, consider learning more about electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to tobacco.

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