Anti-Smoking Group Targets Cigarettes As Environmental Threat

By Susan Jones | April 19, 2011 | 8:51am EDT

(AP Photo)

( – Not only are cigarettes bad for your health – they also threaten the environment, an anti-smoking group says. It points to the millions of cigarette butts that end up on roads, waterways, parks and beaches -- a reason to outlaw smoking in public parks and beaches, it suggests.

"Cigarette butts contain heavy metals that can leach into waterways, posing a threat to acquatic life," the group called Legacy said in a news release on Tuesday. It noted that in one laboratory test, one cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water was lethal to half of the fish exposed.

Cheryl G. Healton, the president and CEO of Legacy, said the data “sets the stage for a new research agenda – one focused both on preserving our environment and protecting our public health." 

Legacy is urging smokers to quit, and if they can't, to properly dispose of cigarette butts and filters. It also is urging jurisdictions to pass laws banning smoking in public parks and beaches.

Legacy points to environmental cleanup reports, which indicate that nearly 2 million cigarettes or cigarette filters/butts were picked up along the world’s beaches and inland waterways as part of the annual International Coastal Cleanup in 2010. That number includes more than one million from the United States alone, making cigarette butts the No. 1 littered item found on beaches and in urban environments.

Legacy says discarded cigarette butts poison hundreds of children who ingest them. It says contrary to what many people think, cigarettes and filters can take years to degrade. Tobacco litter is not only an eyesore, but clean-up costs to cities can be substantial, the group said.

Legacy says there is growing momentum in cities, counties and municipalities to pass laws keeping cigarettes out of parks and beaches. The group noted that as of April 1, 2011, 507 municipalities across the country have prohibited smoking in their parks and 105 have passed laws prohibiting smoking on public beaches in an effort to reduce the impact that cigarette butt waste has on their communities.

"It's a common assumption that since tobacco is organic, its waste is harmless. However, both the plastic filters and the remnants of tobacco are poisonous to children and other living organisms, as this research confirms,” said Tom Novotny, Professor of Global Health in the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University.

"We applaud those communities who have already taken action to stop this problem and hope that through this new research we can strengthen awareness with consumers, environmental advocates, researchers and even the tobacco industry itself."

The Washington, D.C.-based Legacy describes itself as a national public policy foundation that is dedicated to “building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit.” The data mentioned above is part of a special supplement funded by Legacy and published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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