By MaryAnn Clingingsmith
Tobacco Use Prevention Coordinator
In honor of Earth Day, April 22, 2010, I encourage all smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts in an appropriate manner. The environmental impact of discarded cigarettes has been studied by the Johns Hopkins University, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and even the tobacco industry. All studies conclude that cigarette butts are more than a nuisance. Their findings are that the filters on cigarettes are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that is very slow to degrade in the environment. A typical cigarette butt can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to decompose, depending on conditions.
According to Clean Virginia Waterways, cigarette filters have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other animals. And on one California beach 347,000 cigarette butts were picked up within three hours. Tobacco litter was the number one trash item. Tobacco litter leaches toxic substances into our waterways and soil, especially at that volume.
In Glendive on Kick Butt’s Day March 24, 2010, 15 high school students canvassed the high school grounds (a tobacco-free campus) and found over 800 cigarette butts. The students donned gloves and masks and counted the butts, displaying them in a large container, before holding a contest to have their peers guess how many butts the container held.
Cigarette butts contain toxins such as cadmium, arsenic and lead. When tossed into the street, in your yard or the nearby park the chances of young children or pets swallowing, choking or burning themselves on discarded butts are very likely. Every year the American Association of Poison Control Centers receives 8,000 reports of nicotine ingestion among young children. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning included vomiting, nausea, lethargy, irregular heartbeat and seizures.
The cost of cleaning up tobacco litter adds up. Employees at parks, schools, hotels and restaurants all waste unnecessary manpower and resources to pick up discarded butt litter. And speaking of cost, smoldering cigarette butts have been blamed for triggering fires from residential fires to major wildfires and bushfires, which have caused major property damage and also death as well as disruption to services by triggering alarms and warning systems. Smoking’s estimated fire costs were $6.95 billion, in 1998 U.S. dollars. No matter how you do the math, cigarette litter costs society hundreds of millions of dollars per year
Also worth considering, Montana Code Annotated 7-5-4113 states: (1) A person may not throw away lighted matches, tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, or other lighted material on a forest road, private road, city street, county road, public highway, or railroad right-of-way. (2) A person may not empty an ashtray containing matches, ashes, cigarette or cigar refuse, or other related material on a forest road, private road, city street, county road, public highway, or railroad right-of-way in this state. (3) A person convicted of violating subsection (1) or (2) shall be fined a minimum of $100.
Published April 21, 2010