Are cigarette butts overtaking plastic straws as world’s most common pollutant?

Are cigarette butts overtaking plastic straws as world’s most common pollutant?

In the summer of 2018, Seattle, Washington, became the nation’s first major metropolitan community to officially ban the use of plastic drinking straws on public beaches.  Leading the charge to slow global warming and widespread pollution of the world’s oceans, massive corporations like Starbuck’s and McDonald’s are also said to be testing plastic straw alternatives with plans to make the switch by the end of the year.   

However, new information is surfacing suggesting that cigarette butts may now be the most common pollutant seen on public beaches.  As federal public health agencies around the world continue to struggle with their collective decisions to either endorse or restrict the vaping phenomenon, they now have something new to consider.  Smoking kills people, but it may also be killing the world’s oceans. 

San Diego State University joins cigarette butts debate

According to published research, a single cigarette butt takes about ten years to completely biodegrade, and Big Tobacco manufactures about six trillion of these little suckers each and every year.  Scientists further estimate that about 66 percent of all smoked cigarette butts are unwittingly flicked away by the irresponsible smoker.  Flicking a cigarette butt is so commonplace that most smokers don’t even know they’re doing it.

NBC News is now reporting that a new butt-free-beaches campaign is launching in the southern California area which is attempting to draw national attention to this potentially catastrophic issue of ocean pollution.  The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project (CBPP) is actively engaging with local businesses and government officials to encourage the enforcing of no smoking policies on public beaches and other eco-friendly initiatives.  Thomas Novotny of San Diego State University, a professor of public health, is leading the movement.

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According to the CBPP website, research indicates that the chemicals and trace metals found in cigarette butts seep into ground during their natural biodegradation process.  These toxins can then find their way into the waters of the oceans, which can threaten the lives of ecosystems and ocean wildlife.

And if that doesn’t send chills down one’s spine, these nasty chemicals have also proven to seep into the drinking water supply of the general population.  If this is true, then a cigarette butt flicked in the land-locked city of Des Moines, Iowa, is just as dangerous to the environment as one that is flicked away on the white, sandy beaches of California or Florida.

 “And it’s not just committed activists who are aware of the potential damage of the filters—the tobacco companies themselves have reportedly looked into everything from biodegradable filters and distributing portable ashtrays to avoid being held responsible for cigarette litter. But so far, these efforts have fallen flat, with smokers predominantly preferring to flick their cigarette butts.”
 
-  Professor Thomas Novotny via an interview with Fortune Magazine
 

Oddly, Big Tobacco has been very aware of this potentially earth-shattering issue of toxic cigarette butts for several years.  In fact, most cigarette retailers have already researched alternative materials and methods for manufacturing these cigarette filters.

For example, some companies experimented with paper filtration systems, but the change in taste of the resulting cigarette smoke led to poor ratings by consumer groups.  Organizers of the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project are hoping to put political pressure on government officials and tobacco manufacturers to keep searching for a less-pollutive alternative.  

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(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints, policy or company position of Vapes.com, the rest of our staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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