Study identifies cigarette butts (and plastic straws) as world’s most toxic pollutant

Earlier this month during an impromptu interview while boarding Marine One, President Donald Trump was asked a rather interesting question.  Rather than focusing on Russian collusion, the Mueller Report, or impeachment proceedings, the eco-friendly reporter asked about Trump’s thoughts on plastic straws pollution and legislation. 

Just this month, Seattle, Washington, became the very first major metropolitan area to ban the manufacturing, sales, and use of plastic drinking straws citywide.  In the city’s latest push to prevent marine and wildlife pollution, local restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are now prohibited from providing all forms of eating utensils to their customers.  Research now indicates overwhelmingly that the small size and bright colors of those little red stir sticks, for example, often cause them to be mistaken for food by many species of land, sea, and amphibious creatures. 

Butts and straws are not biodegradable

However, new information released by the San Diego non-profit the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project (CBPP) further suggests that plastic straws may have a competitor in the race for the worst ocean pollutant ever.  According to the NBC News report, CBPP believes that tobacco cigarette butts are causing just as much damage to the environment, if not more. 

“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.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a fear-mongering campaign over the last 18-months which attempts to paint vaping as just as hazardous to public health as smoking.  After citing an alleged 80 percent uptick in underage use during 2017, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb labeled teen vaping as a national “epidemic” – a term typically reserved for outbreaks of such lethal diseases as the Ebola virus and yellow fever. 

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However, Gottlieb may be on the wrong side of environmental history by refusing to endorse vaping as a highly eco-friendly alternative to smoking.  According to the CBPP website, cigarette butts are not biodegrable, which means that they lack the ability to break-down naturally into individual minerals and other ecological and recyclable compounds.  Instead of being constructed with an organic material like cotton, cigarette filters are filled with an extremely toxic substance called cellulose acetate which is a material similar to rayon.

Electronic cigarettes, on the other hand, contain none of these noxious pollutants and are very environmentally friendly in comparison.  In fact, research now indicates that the smoke from combustible cigarettes takes about 30-45 minutes to thoroughly evaporate.  Comparatively, e-cig vapor dissipates within only a few seconds, according to research co-authored by Dr. Dainius Martuzevicius of the Department of Environmental Technology in Kaunas, Lithuania.   This means that e-cigarette significantly less pollutive than smoking for the land, the sea, as well as the air. 

Big Tobacco makes 5.6 trillion butts per year

While cigarette butts can take up to 10-years to fully decompose, they also leach multiple toxins, heavy metals, and even petroleum-based oils into the soil and ground water in the process.  And much like those little plastic straws, cigarette butts are often mistaken for food by animals, birds, sea creatures, and other forms of wildlife.  Perhaps even more gruesome, research also shows that many smaller species often asphyxiate or choke themselves to death on these nasty, brown and white filters. 

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Experts estimate that Big Tobacco produces around 5.6 trillion cigarette butts per year, and about 66 percent of them are thoughtlessly flicked away out of car windows or onto sidewalks by inconsiderate smokers.  Furthermore, a recent article in Fortune Magazine by Dr. Thomas Novotny of the San Diego State University Department of Public Health says that cigarette filters serve no real purpose other than making cigarettes “easier for people to smoke.”  And while efforts to pass federal legislation to ban tobacco filters have thus far proven unsuccessful, Novatny worries that government corruption may be partially to blame. 

“While tobacco companies and startups continue to look for alternative to growing cigarette waste, Novotny and others are fighting to get legislation passed that would ban cigarette filters. Attempts to pass legislation have failed thus far, due in no small part to the fact that many lawmakers receive campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.”

The debate over plastic straws is attracting a great deal of international attention as cities like Seattle and major corporations like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Marriott Hotels, and the Hyatt Regency are quickly banning plastic straws across the board.   However, little has been said lately about the catastrophic levels of pollution that carelessly tossed-away cigarette butts are still creating.

With so much emphasis today on an FDA-inspired “teen vaping epidemic,” more and more Americans now wrongly believe that vaping and smoking are equally hazardous to public health.  Regardless, the CBPP research shows these same ill-informed citizens another very distinct and undeniable difference.   E-cigs are butt-free, and therefore, safer for the environment than any filtered tobacco cigarette on the planet. Period.

Related Article:   Research shows looking at green trees & foliage can reduce smokers’ cravings

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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