- Politics and Social Issues
The World's Most Popular Trash
No if, ands, or buts about it :
A segment of our population will always smoke. This group is a specific demographic with unique characteristics that are hard to identify without judgement.
Every responsible organization on the planet has reported the dangers of smoking but smokers persist. Fine. It's a free country. If you are a person of legal age, yes, society can restrict your smoking in a variety of ways (that we have probably just about exhausted) but nobody can force you to stop lighting up. But do you think we could agree that cigarette butts dropped on the ground are litter?
They do not biodegrade. They collect. Piles of them line our roadways, our parking lots, and just about any place the general public is allowed. Did you notice the top picture on this hub? Where do you think that mess comes from?
The Texas Department of Transportation estimates 130 million cigarette butts will be tossed out in that state this year alone. Worldwide, 5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes are smoked annually, resulting in 1.7 billion pounds of cigarette butt litter that is left on sidewalks, beaches, nature trails, and other public places every single day.
What makes this kind of litter so much more insidious than other paper products is the fact that cigarette filters are not biodegradable. Nearly all cigarette filters are composed of a bundle of 12,000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers. Cellulose acetate 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. When that finally does happen, that powder releases toxins, not a product the environment can reuse, but a substance that will do to our ground water, streams, rivers and lakes something similar to what smoking in the first place does to smokers' lungs. Studies conducted by Clean Virginia Waterways have shown tiny bits of tobacco that are invariably left attached cigarette filters carry more toxins than the filters do themselves.
Prior to 1954, most cigarettes were non-filtered. In the mid-1950s, sales of filtered cigarettes increased dramatically as the cause-effect relationship between smoking and cancer was reported extensively in the press. Before these reports, in 1950, sales of filtered cigarettes in the US were 1.5 percent of all cigarette sales. Now, more than 97 percent of cigarettes sold in the U .S. have filters. This statistic prompts congratulations to smokers who have become somewhat more concerned about their own health. But the result for the rest of us is an enormous increase in cigarette litter left behind by smokers who have yet to become as concerned about their own neighborhoods, workplaces, and leisure destinations.
Discarded cigarette butts also pose a significant threat to our environment in terms of fire. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, upwards of 90,000 fires every year in the United States are caused by cigarettes. 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.
The recent bans on indoor smoking have been blamed for the increase in cigarette butt deposition. In Australia, authorities state cigarette butts account for fifty percent of all litter, a trend that the executive director of Keep Australia Clean blames partly on indoor no-smoking policies. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people in the world smoke —that is one third of all people on earth over the age of 15. Combine that estimation with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistic showing global tobacco consumption more than doubling in the last 30 years, reaching its height in 1997, this is a problem that is not going away any time soon. Couldn't smokers just make more of an effort the find a trash can when they finish their smoke? Remember, these are the remaining consumers who have ignored every medical expert on the planet concerning their own lives. How much success do you think we will have trying to change their behavior based on the needs of others?
This is not to say that behaviors have not changed. Many smokers today will not smoke in their own homes or vehicles. Many will no longer smoke around children, even out of doors. When is the last time you saw a pregnant woman (God forbid) smoking? Changes have taken place for the benefit of all of us, specifically resulting from the avalanche of information that has been learned about second-hand smoke. This issue is, hopefully, one of the next steps. Information like the following from Kathleen M. Register, an Underwater Naturalist with the Bulletin of the American Littoral Society, may be what it takes to begin to make a difference.
The 470 billion cigarettes smoked in the United States in 1998 translates to a total of 176,250,000 pounds of discarded butts in one year in the United States alone. The filters from 5.608 trillion cigarettes (approximate world production) would weigh more than 2.1 billion pounds. This figure does not include the weight of the tobacco still attached to the filter, or the packaging, matches, disposable lighters, and other "collateral" waste that is generated by smoking. www.littoralsociety.org
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.
People once smoked in elevators, in enclosed cars full of children, in resturants where other people were eating, in movie theaters, in hospital waiting rooms. Habits can be changed. It takes time. It may also take as many pieces of information on the subject as there are cigarette butts on the ground.