Ever since the Surgeon General’s first report on smoking in 1964, Americans have become more and more educated on the various forms of heart disease, lung disease and cancers smoking can create. It is also common knowledge that smoking causes discoloration of fingernails and teeth as well as other cosmetically damaging effects.
Worldwide, tobacco causes 5 million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization. However, one of the most overlooked issues smoking creates is the damaging impact the use, and subsequent discarding of cigarettes, has on the environment.
Generally, the public is well aware that second-hand smoke is very dangerous. According to the CDC, second-hand smoke contains carcinogens, toxic metals and poisonous gases. While all of these substances obviously have adverse effects on human health, they also affect our environment as well. Second-hand smoke goes into our atmosphere and degrades air quality. The CDC also reports that a collection of experiments demonstrated that levels of respirable suspended particulates (RSPs) decreased by up to 96% in public spaces that banned smoking. This substantive improvement in air quality is not only for the sake of health, but a sustainable ecology as well.
Smoking pollutes the air, but the damage to the environment does not stop there. Discarded cigarette butts frequently litter public streets and entryways. Cigarettes are the most common individual item of litter. As reported by the New York Times, it is so prevalent that the city of San Francisco applies a 20 cent tax on cigarette purchases to help cover the $10.7 million the city spends every year on removing cigarette butts from public spaces.
The biggest issue concerning discarded cigarette butts is accidental consumption by children or small animals. Studies show that household pets or other small animals that make the mistake of ingesting cigarette litter may suffer tremors, vomiting, respiratory failure and even death. The sight of cigarettes disappearing into a storm drain may ease the guilt of a litterer, but those cigarettes often find their way into bodies of water, and subsequently, the stomachs of marine wildlife. According to a report from ANR, cigarette butts are also a hazard to infants and toddlers. The American Association of Poison Control Centers received 7,310 reports of potentially toxic tobacco product exposure cases in 2008. Just one cigarette butt is dangerous, and a whole cigarette may be lethal if ingested. Although the general public may not immediately recognize it, cigarettes are toxic waste and need to be disposed of properly.
Aiming Toward a Greener Planet
While more and more people are quitting, the placement of ashtrays and cigarette disposal bins in designated smoking areas will help curb pollution. In fact, the most common reason smokers give for littering is simply the lack of having an acceptable location to discard cigarettes. However, smokers must ultimately realize that part of the responsibility associated with their habit is the safe disposal of used cigarettes.
For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.
Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.
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