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.
Smoking’s Impact on our Waters: Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, and Bays
Our oceans, lakes, rivers, and bays are our planet’s lifeblood. Oceans are a primary force in regulating our planet’s weather and climate. Lakes and rivers provide fresh water to drink, and are a major food source for many cultures around the world. Bays and inlets can provide a sanctuary for fishing, as they can block strong winds and large waves. Keeping our water clean means more than campaigning against drilling, or stopping cans and waste from being thrown over the side of boats. One of the biggest threats to the safety of our planet’s waters, is smoking.
While many know that one little cigarette contains about 600 chemicals, 69 of which have been proven to cause cancer, some may not realize that cigarettes produce over 7,000 chemicals when lit. The chemicals found in a cigarette are also highly soluble in water, and can saturate a body of water with contaminants. What often goes unnoticed, is the contents of a cigarette butt. Many are led to believe these make smoking safer. This, however, is simply not true.
Some are under the assumption that cigarette butts are biodegradable. They are not. Cigarette butts are comprised of cellulose acetate. This is a plastic that may disperse into smaller pieces, however, will never biodegrade. This material also meets all city and state department’s guidelines for what is considered to be toxic waste.
According to No-Smoke, data derived from the Ocean Conservancy demonstrated that approximately 3,216,991 cigarettes or cigarette butts were collected from beaches and inland waterways all over the world in 2009, during that year’s annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). However, an astonishing 1,362,741 cigarettes and butts were removed from the waterways of the United States alone. There were other items in relation to smoking that were further collected from U.S. waterways, as well. They include 18,555 cigarette lighters, 74,399 cigar tips, and 36,397 tobacco packages.
In a study performed by Elli Slaughter of San Diego State University, a single cigarette butt that had traces of tobacco was introduced to a liter of water. This resulted in high toxicity levels, and the death of 50% of the fish in the water. This is the result of one little cigarette butt.
How Smoking Affects Livestock
Because of the dangers smoking presents to our farms, it is important that farmers join together in order to spread awareness. Education is the bedrock to ensuring animals remain healthy, and the farm remains thriving.
One of the primary concerns when it comes to the safety of farm animals, is cigarette litter. This is comprised of plastic wrappers, crumpled packages that contain tobacco remnants, and used cigarette butts. Plastic wrappers and packages are most readily eaten by goats and pigs, however they can be ingested by most any animal. This can present a choking hazard, as well as making the animal severely sick when tobacco remnants are present.
Cigarette butts are another issue. Cigarette butts are comprised of cellulose acetate. This is a type of plastic that can breakdown into smaller pieces, but it will never biodegrade. Cigarette butts actually meet every city and state department’s guidelines for what is considered to be toxic waste. Animals such as goats, pigs, cows, horses, fowl, and more, can easily consume these butts. This happens out of curiosity, or by mistake. Either way, once these butts are consumed, the toxins from the material itself and the tobacco remnants can make the animal very sick and can even kill them.
As any farmer knows, a successful farm is a natural habitat that embodies a balanced ecosystem unto its own. When cigarette butts are thrown onto the ground, the chemical ingredients can affect the soil. This can affect vegetation, which can in turn, affect the animals. This can lead to a total disruption of a farm’s natural balance. To introduce foreign, toxic chemicals to a farm’s ecosystem also means to disrupt its natural sustainability and progression. It hinders the farm’s natural order, and begins to break it down piece by piece. This can lead to a domino effect.
Contaminating the grass and vegetation can make grazing animals very sick. This also accounts for accidental ingestion of butts by these grazing animals. There is also the issue of water contamination. If a cigarette butt makes it into the animal’s water supply, the results could be deadly. According to Stockton.edu, due to the chemical composition of used cigarette filters, they almost immediately begin to leak arsenic, acetone, ammonia, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, and toluene when introduced to water. This is a biohazard, and can lead to a farm full of very sick animals.
Aiming Toward a Greener Planet
Cigarette disposal is a complex issue that requires effort from both smokers and non-smokers alike. Ideally, this issue would best be solved by reducing the number of people who smoke.
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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