Cigarette Butts are Toxic Waste
“According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, tobacco use accounts for almost 7,700 deaths a year in Kentucky and 400,000 deaths nationwide. Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the country and the second highest prevalence of pregnant women who smoke. Smoke free ordinances have proven successful across the United States, where cities like Los Angeles and New York have been smoke-free for several years. “Louisville has adopted policies that prohibit smoking inside buildings, public facilities and, in some instances, on the outside campuses of facilities and public sidewalks.” In addition, there are specific duties of owners of public establishments that aid in the enforcement of this ordinance.“90.05 DUTIES OF OWNERS OF BUILDINGS AND/OR ESTABLISHMENTS.
(A) No owner, lessee, principal manager, or person in control of a building or establishment in a building shall fail to:
(1) Ask smokers to refrain from smoking in any no-smoking area;
(2) Use any other legal means, which may be appropriate to further the intent of this chapter.
(B) No owner, principal manager, proprietor, or any other person in control of a business shall fail to ensure compliance by subordinates, employees, and agents with this chapter.
The Louisville Metro Health Department shall enforce the provisions of this chapter through the issuance of citations, and for this purpose may at all reasonable times enter in and on any premises of any establishment. Notice of the provisions of this chapter shall be given by Metro Government to all applicants for a business or other license.
90.08 REASONABLE DISTANCE.
Smoking is prohibited within a reasonable distance from the outside entrance to any building so as to ensure that tobacco smoke does not enter the building through entrances, windows, ventilation systems, or other means.”
This ordinance has helped alleviate the exposure to secondary smoke in public buildings and enclosed areas, but now there is another problem that I have noticed in my work as a volunteer in PUP (Picking up Portland). That is the accumulation of discarded cigarette butts and filters that line the sidewalks leading into the buildings. What happens if these butts are allowed to stay? First, the butts will be eaten by wild and domestic animals who do not realize that this is poison. Small children will also pick up the butts and put them in their mouths if not monitored. This is not so much a problem in public because children are usually monitored by an adult, but there have been many cases of nicotine poisoning treated in the emergency rooms and hospitals for children who eat the discarded cigarette butts in ashtrays in their homes. Stray cats and dogs that roam the streets are susceptible to poisoning as well as the wildlife. This is also a problem seen in veterinary offices all over the country. The following is an excerpt from a dog owner.“My landscaper, when mowing our doggy pen (a large area where they are allowed to be in our yard - supervised) chews tobacco and every week our dogs become ill (all five) for two to three days after this area is mowed.
We finally discovered that the landscaper was spitting out the tobacco as he was mowing the doggie pen and that our dogs were finding this unusual treat very interesting. At first we thought it was the chunks of grass that fell off the mower, and then we discovered the chunks of tobacco. Lots of them.
I have since learned that this can be toxic to pets and the symptoms are, vomiting, diarrhea or loose stool.”
In addition to poisoning animals, nicotine and the tar from filters poison the earth and water systems. When the rains come, the nicotine is absorbed into the earth or washed down the sewer drains which lead eventually into our rivers and streams. The following is an excerpt from a smoker:
How Cigarette Toxins Pollute the Environment
Updated April 22, 2015.I was as guilty as the next smoker when it came to tossing a cigarette butt out of the window of my car or stubbing a cigarette out on the ground as I stood outside having a smoke. Like thousands of other smokers, I didn't think twice about leaving a trail of cigarette litter behind me, but had I known how my actions affected our environment, I would have been much more careful.
Cigarette Butt Litter -- A Plague on Our Planet
According to Keep America Beautiful, Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes than ever before, yet cigarette butts continue to be the most commonly littered item in the United States and around the world today. They specify two reasons for this statistic -- lack of awareness on the smoker's part, and the lack of availability of waste receptacles at "transition" locations, such as outside stores and other buildings, and at public transportation pickup spots.
The core of most cigarette filters -- the part that looks like white cotton, is actually a form of plastic called cellulose acetate. By itself, cellulose acetate is very slow to degrade in our environment. Depending on the conditions of the area the cigarette butt is discarded in, it can take 18 months to 10 years for a cigarette filter to decompose.
But that isn't the worst of it.
Used cigarette filters are full of toxins known as tar, and those chemicals leach into the ground and waterways, damaging living organisms that contact them.
And, most filters are discarded with bits of tobacco still attached to them as well, further polluting our environment with nicotine.
The Toxins in Cigarette Butts
Toxin-filled cigarette butts work their way into our waterways primarily through storm drains that dump into streams and lakes. Studies conducted by Clean Virginia Waterways have shown that just one cigarette butt in approximately two gallons of water is lethal to water fleas, a tiny crustacean found in fresh water and saltwater. And, tiny bits of tobacco that are invariably left attached cigarette filters carry more toxins than the filters do themselves.
Cigarette filters are a threat to wildlife that could ingest them, mistaking filters for food, and to small children, who may eat them if they're within reach.
Cigarette-induced fires claim hundreds of lives in the United States each year, and injure thousands more, not to mention the millions of dollars that go up in smoke in property damage.
I am a resident of Portland, and I am concerned about the public health and safety of all who live and work here – especially those with no voice. Whether a non-smoker or smoker, I hope we can all work together to raise awareness and make sure our public parks, streets and water drains are free of any litter that has the capacity to threaten our health and safety and the quality of life in this neighborhood I have chosen to call home.