Cigarettes: Toxic Trash


No matter which way you look at them, cigarette butts are deadly. Tossed into gutters and on the shoulders of roads, if they do not first cause a fire or are eaten by wildlife (or young children), cigarette butts will likely travel through storm drains and enter our watershed, where they can travel all the way to the ocean. Because cigarette filters are specifically designed to accumulate toxins, each cigarette butt can contain up to 60 known human carcinogens including arsenic, formaldehyde, chromium and lead. Indeed, there are 1,400 potential chemical additives. Toxicological data has shown that these chemicals from discarded cigarette butts are capable of leaching into surrounding water where they can harm aquatic life. Nicotine has been shown to be lethal to species of fish, crustaceans, zooplankton, and other aquatic organisms, as well as being a known insecticide. On top of leeching toxins, cigarette butts present an ingestion, choking and poisoning hazard to wildlife who mistake them for food.  Cigarette filters are also composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that can persist in the environment for long periods of time. Plastics of this sort have been found in the stomachs of sea turtles, fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures.

Wildlife are not the only ones at risk. Cigarettes are the leading cause of fatal home fires in the United States. Every year, fires started by cigarettes are responsible for more than $6 billion in societal costs and direct property damage, about 2,500 injuries and over 1,000 deaths. More than a hundred fatal victims are innocent bystanders - children and nonsmokers. Furthermore, each year poison control centers in the United States receive thousands of reports of children ingesting tobacco products. One study has shown that the mean age of children involved in ingesting cigarette butts was just 12 months; 77% of the children were between the ages of 6 and 12 months.

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