Smoking’s Impact on our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, and Bays

Smoking’s impact extends beyond the human condition, reaching the waters of our planet. Support is needed to maximize resources, to educate, and to bring about awareness.

Smoking’s Impact on Waters

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.

One Little Cigarette…

It’s only one little cigarette, what harm can it do? By now, many people understand the impact smoking has on the human body. It devastates our internal organs, it is the cause of numerous diseases and cancers, and kills more than 440,000 people each and every year. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 8.6 million people are currently living with a disease or illness caused by smoking cigarettes. Can you imagine what these toxic chemicals can do when introduced to the waters of our planet?

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 unlike with the vapor from a vaporizer, which does not release the same amount of chemical pollution. 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.

One Little Cigarette Butt…

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. Compare that to the virtually non-existent litter caused by vapes, which are typically reusable, and that number seems even more unfathomable. 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.

Landscape with river and lake

Damage to Delicate Ecosystems

From our oceans and bays, to our rivers and lakes – the processes involved with maintaining these ecosystems is very delicate. Disruptions of this nature can destroy the harmony and balance needed to support underwater life in all its forms. Introducing toxic chemicals and materials to our waters can impede on the natural order of things, like the food chain, and therefore change chemical compositions, structures, and plant life formations – such as coral reefs.

According to, because of the chemical composition of cigarette filters, once they are introduced to water, they almost immediately begin to leak arsenic, acetone, ammonia, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, and toluene. These chemicals are poisons, essentially able to kill all life they come into contact with. Again, 1,362,741 cigarettes and butts were removed from United States waterways, alone.

Aside from the leaking toxins, which pollute the water and are absorbed by plankton and plant life, whole butts and particles are consumed by sea-dwelling creatures – leaving them to die or to be consumed, effectively poisoning others.


It is not enough that some are aware of this growing tragedy. More must be done. In the wake of these reports and studies, it has become more urgent than ever to make this information widely known, and readily available to everybody – especially to those who smoke. In the midst of campaigns and research, education must become a high-level priority. Reaching out to other organizations and forming partnerships is more crucial than ever. Joining withlikeminded organizations increases our reach, and increases our resources. Our waters and our planet’s ultimate survival may depend on supporting one another’s campaigns, research, and goals of betterment for the human race.


Published: June 3, 2015


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One comment on “Smoking’s Impact on our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, and Bays
  • GHgfggfhffnjhuy
    September 4, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    So what happens to the water?