Everyone knows that cigarettes are bad for your health, but did you know that cigarettes can also be harmful to the environment?
Most people don't litter because they know it's bad for the environment, but lots of people don't realize that cigarette butts are litter too. About 95 percent of cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate — a plastic — and the rest is made from papers and rayon, according to the Department of Natural Sciences at Longwood University in Virginia.
The cellulose acetate fibers are thinner than sewing thread, white, and packed tightly together to create a filter; they can look like cotton, despite being far from anything like cotton.
If cigarette butts were only paper and cotton, they would be biodegradable and even though it's never ideal to litter, they would break down naturally into the environment.
But in reality, cigarettes are made out of a plastic that will not degrade for thousands of years. When plastic breaks apart, it doesn't actually biodegrade; instead, it just breaks down into microscopic pieces.
There is no way to tell exactly what is in cigarettes because cigarettes are not considered to be a food or drug, which means there are no legal maximums on how many agricultural chemicals or chemical additives cigarettes may contain.
Cigarettes often end up on sidewalks or on streets and then get washed down storm drains and into sewers when it rains. From there, cigarette butts end up in water sources, polluting the water.
The issue at hand is a litter issue, not a smoking issue. Cigarette companies cannot control anymore what people who smoke do with their cigarette butts than soda companies can control what people who drink do with their empty soda cans. Instead of throwing cigarette butts onto the ground or out their car windows, people should throw them into a trashcan or use an ashtray.
Some states have considered implementing a tax on cigarettes, which would be used to clean up cigarette butts in the environment. This idea is similar to anti-litter taxes some states already have in place, which charge a small tax on bottles and cans and then use that money to combat littering.
When you think about it, it makes sense — someone has to be paid to clean up all the cigarette butts people throw on the ground every day, so there is a cost related with cigarette butt litter. Instead of everyone — even non-smokers — having to foot that bill, why not only charge the people who use the product?
Money from a cigarette anti-littering tax could also go toward educational programs to educate people on the harmfulness of cigarette butts in the environment.
Education is probably the most important component in combating cigarette butt litter. A lot of people think that cigarettes are made of cotton because they look like cotton and even though they may never throw anything else on the ground, they’re willing to throw cigarattes on the ground.
If people knew how bad it was for the environment, they would be more likely to dispose of their butts properly.