Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cigarette Butts - The New Bane of the Planet


Let's concede that smoking cigarettes is one of the most disgusting human habits there is, not to mention one of the most unhealthy - prompting lung disease (including cancer), heart disease, strokes and sundry other problems.  Now, new research has revealed another problem: the pollution of the planet via trillions of tossed cigarette butts.
I can't speak for readers, but one of the most infuriating sights I've beheld is cigs tossed out of a car window from a moving vehicle on the open highway or even main thoroughfares in a city. Such behaviors show the people who toss them regard the planet and their own city -state as merely  a giant dumping ground.

But the problem is not confined to cities or highways. Each year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers scour beaches all over the world, picking up trash. Ocean Conservancy estimates that last year alone these Earth conscious folks picked up over two million cigarette butts among the other refuse,  By one estimate, two thirds of the six TRILLION cigarettes smoked each year worldwide end up being dropped. They amount to a total of 750,000 TONS. Dropped on beaches, dropped on city sidewalks, dropped on streets, dropped wherever the numbskulls who do it think no one is looking  - so can't hold them to account, or won't.

Now, thanks to Thomas Novotny's Cigarette Butt Pollution Project we know just how bad the situation is. Novotny's project is currently studying cigarette waste from a number of perspectives including: toxicity, accidental consumption by children and animals, and potential for adverse effects on human health via dumping.

The results so far reflect an urgent need to reduce this form of toxic waste. Some of the findings:

1) Used butts are not just pieces of non-biodegradable plastic. They also contain the  carcinogens, nicotine and toxins found in all tobacco products.

2)  Just one butt soaked in a liter of water for 96 hours leaches out enough toxins to kill HALF of the fresh or salt water fish exposed to them. Thus, there is biological plausibility to the argument that such a vast volume tossed into the environment each year will adversely affect human health.

3) Filters on cigs are no use whatsoever. They were originally designed to keep loose tobacco out of smokers' mouths - not to protect their health. The fact is that these filters do nothing, nada to filter out harmful toxins. According to the Surgeon General and the National Cancer Institute filters lack any benefit for smokers. Indeed, "cancer risks have actually increased over the past 50 years." (New Scientist, June 28, p. 26)

Thus, the tobacco industry's solution of a biodegradable filter is a non-solution. Toxins would still leach out while falsely reassuring smokers of doing justice to the environment.

It is time now for the tobacco industry itself, which is causing the monstrous problem, to give a helping hand as opposed to largely leaving the responsibility of cleanups to communities, eco-conscious activists, and individuals

It could also help by posting a message - or using adverts - to advise chronic smokers to cease and desist with their revolting habit of butt -flicking. Better, a fine of $500 each time they're caught or their license reported to a state bureau of highway (or environmental) code enforcement. After a few hits they may find it economical to stop tossing the butts from their windows.

But one of the best solutions, suggested by Novotny's group is getting rid of the filters altogether. They serve no useful purpose so why keep them? To preserve the illusion smokers are somehow protecting themselves?  The filter may reduce some tar and nicotine but the total impact on the planet is god-awful.

It is time that we help with the end objective, and get friends, family as far as we are able, to stop tossing butts.

Or better yet, stop this noisome habit altogether! I stopped cold turkey after being hurled from my bed in New Orleans 45 years ago, barely able to breathe. The doc I went to said I had two choices: keep smoking my Marlboro 100s (2 packs a day)  and end up in an early grave or with incurable lung cancer at age 70 - or stop the foolishness and chew gum instead. I opted for the latter, and sadly for many smokers a life -altering experience (or near death one) may be what it takes to get them to halt their poisoned puffing.

Obviously, none of them are going to stop out of any concern for the planet their butts are converting into a giant ash tray.

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