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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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Every year billions of cigarette butts end up on our beaches and in the ocean

Cigarette Butts Toxic to Marine Life

New SDSU research shows that left-over chemicals leach into the environment and kill fish.
By Gina Jacobs

Everyone knows smoking cigarettes is hazardous to their health, but a new study shows that cigarette butts can be just as dangerous for the environment.  SDSU public health researcher Richard Gersberg evaluated the effects left-over cigarette butts have on marine life and found that the chemicals from just one filtered cigarette butt had the ability to kill fish living in a one-liter bucket of water.

Gersberg's study used three types of cigarette butts:

  • Smoked filtered cigarettes without tobacco
  • Smoked filtered cigarettes with tobacco
  • Clean un-smoked filtered cigarettes

In all cases, about half of the fish were killed with a very low concentration of cigarette butts. 

"The most important finding in this research is that it seems to be the filter, or rather what's in the left-over filter that is most dangerous to our water," Gersberg said.

Cigarette filters are made of cellulose-acetate, which is not readily biodegradable.

An estimated 1.69 billion pounds of butts wind up
as litter worldwide each year.
Cigarette Butts Are Hazardous Waste

In response to these new findings, the national Cigarette Butt Advisory Group (CBAG) has made the recommendation that cigarette butts be placed on the list of hazardous waste.

"Each year, billions of cigarette butts end up on our beaches, and in our oceans, lakes and rivers," said Tom Novotny, chair of CBAG and professor of public health at SDSU. "Based on this new research, we believe that cigarettes should be considered toxic waste and new requirements need to be established for how they are disposed."

According to Novotny's recent article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, an estimated 1.69 billion pounds (845,000 tons) of butts wind up as litter worldwide per year.  In addition, the annual Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup reports that "cigarette butts have been the single most recovered item since collections began."

About Cigarette Butt Advisory Group (CBAG)

The Cigarette Butt Advisory Group consists of more than a dozen members including representatives from environmental groups, government advocacy groups and legal advisors. The Cigarette Butt Eradication Project seeks to unify public health efforts against smoking with environmental efforts against waste.

Together, these efforts will add to health and healthy environments.

This research was sponsored by the University of California, Office of the President, Tobacco Related Disease Research Program.