Cigarettes and cigarette butts contain toxins, nicotine, pesticides and carcinogens. And when they're tossed away on streets and sidewalk, and in backyards, they can easily find their way into the surrounding environment -- their toxic ingredients contaminating water sources, poisoning aquatic micro-organisms and fish.
And it's not just the chemical ingredients, but the physical materials, that do harm. Dead whales, washed ashore, have been found with stomachs filled with cigarette filters. In addition to clogging the intestines of sea mammals, the non-biodegradable filters can leach chemicals into the ocean for up to ten years.
For these reasons, environmental public policy researchers Thomas Novotny and Elli Slaughter of San Diego State University say cigarette filters should be banned.
Not only that, in an article published this week in Springer's journal Current Environmental Health Reports, Novotny and Slaughter argue that manufacturers should be held responsible for cleanups and that deposit-return schemes should be created for the disposal of used butts.
"Tobacco waste products are ubiquitous, environmentally hazardous and a significant community nuisance," said Novotny. "With two-thirds of all smoked cigarettes, numbering in the trillions globally, being discarded into the environment each year, it is critical to consider the potential toxicity and remediation of these waste products."
Novotny and Slaughter say drastic policy changes are the only option, as anti-littering laws have done little to change the behaviors and habits of smokers. The researchers also claim that filters have done little to curb the ill effects of cigarette smoke on human health -- so there is no reason, they claim, to keep them around.