U.S. LitterButt's Pledge
John R. Polito - July 4, 2002
Mother Earth is Not an Ashtray
Is mother earth being rained upon by two billion cigarette butts each day? Although accurate butt facts are rare, that's an average of less than two cigarette butts daily from each of earth's 1.2 billion smokers, just 13% of the estimated 15 billion filtered cigarettes being smoked each day.
What we do know is that worldwide 5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes are smoked annually, with an estimated 1.7 billion pounds of cigarette butt litter. Here in the U.S., more than 1.35 trillion cigarettes were manufactured in 2007, of which 360 billion were smoked here. Look closely at the ground at any intersection. They're everywhere!
Are cigarette butts litter? Absolutely! But unlike paper products they're not biodegradable. Nearly all cigarette filters are composed of a bundle of 12,000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers. Cellulose acetate is photodegradable but not bio-degradable. It can take years, in some cases up to fifteen, for ultraviolet light to cause fibers to decay into a plastic powder that can't be seen. As they do their deadly cargo is released.
The nicotine trapped inside 200 used filters is likely sufficient to kill a 160 pound adult human - 50 to 60 milligrams. Imagine a month without rain followed by a brief thunderstorm that washes 500,000 nicotine laden canoes - enough to kill 2,500 humans - into area creeks and streams. Aquatic life at the bottom of the food chain can pay a deadly price. But so can fish who mistake butts for food or birds who use them for nesting material. Nicotine isn't the only villain as trapped tars and toxic gases leach into waterways too.
Tar refers to the more than three thousand five hundred chemical particles and five hundred gases generated by each burning cigarette that include arsenic, vinyl chloride, acetone, mercury and lead. Modern filters trap roughly half the tar while capturing one-third of a cigaretteís formaldehyde and two-thirds of its hydrogen cyanide. Pick up a few dozen butts and take a big whiff. Smell the scent of bitter almonds? Thatís hydrogen cyanide.
It's sad that those chemically dependent upon regular nicotine feedings daily punish the environment with their not so empty empties. But it isnít all their fault. Although roughly 80% of all littered items along the three miles of highway roadside that I maintain are cigarette butts or their packaging, law enforcement officers have historically ignored those flicking lit butts. But why?
Imagine being a police officer and chemically dependent upon nicotine yourself, working with scores of smoking officers who daily violate criminal litter laws, or living with nicotine dependent family members who litter butts themselves. Who would you cite or arrest first?
If a non-smoker, I challenge you to try and understand the root cause of more than 1 billion cigarette butts being hurled to the ground daily. Understanding nicotine addiction and the recovery process positions you to reach out to smokers in ways you never imagined possible. Assisting just one pack-a-day smoker in arresting their chemical dependency, or preventing just one child or teen from becoming another pack-a-day smoker, means 7,300 fewer cigarette butts per year. Is it easier to pick-up 7,300 butts or not have them there to begin with?
Today, the world turns its collective head while mother earth serves as one big ashtray for hundreds of billions of littered butts each year. What message does such contempt for the land and laws send to our children? We need to either enforce our litter laws or repeal them.
It takes only seconds to field strip and pocket a used filter. I challenge all current and former smokers to help clean up our mess. Neither society nor the environment deserve to live with our old butts for years to come. If you do adopt a small section of roadway, be sure to wear a glove and try not to breathe the fumes rising from your bucket or bag. Let's each become just a little litter bitter. Together we can make a difference!
WhyQuit's basic "how to quit smoking" video
Key Cigarette Butt Studies
- WhyQuit.com - the Internet's oldest forum devoted to the art, science and psychology of cold turkey quitting, the quitting method used by 80-90% of all successful long-term ex-smokers.
- "Never Take Another Puff" - a free 149 page quit smoking book in PDF format by Joel Spitzer of Chicago, the Internet's leading authority on cold turkey quitting and nicotine dependency recovery. Joel's free book is an insightful collection of almost 100 short quitting articles on almost every cessation topic imaginable.
- "Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home" - this link is to the free 240 page PDF version John R. Polito's new nicotine dependency recovery book. WhyQuit's 1999 founder and a former 30-year heavy smoker, John provides an easy to follow road-map to freedom from nicotine.
- Joel's Library - Joel's Library is home to more than 100 original short articles by Joel Spitzer on every quitting topic imaginable, home to 64 video quitting lessons and home to daily lesson guides that walk new quitters through the first two weeks.
- Nicotine Addiction 101 - WhyQuit's guide to nicotine dependency.
- Freedom - the Internet's only 100% nicotine-free nicotine dependency recovery forum. Here, visitors will find more than 200,000 archived member posts.
- Nicotine Cessation Topic Index - an alphabetical subject matter index to hundreds of nicotine cessation support group discussions at Freedom.
- 50 Quitting Tips - A short summary of quit smoking tips
Share this WhyQuit page with others.