Filthy, smelly cigarette butts: What are we doing to our planet?

Over 700 cigarette butts picked randomly from the streets
Over 700 cigarette butts picked randomly from the streets

Filthy cigarettes! Wherever you live, check your streets and the area where you live and see how widespread the cigarette butt problem is in the environment. We are so used to seeing cigarette butts that we forget they are there, yet in many studies done in the USA and elsewhere, cigarette butts are the most common form of street and beach litter. Aside from asking what the tobacco industry is doing to our children, addicting them to tobacco and later harming and killing them as adults, we can ask: What is the tobacco industry doing to our precious planet?

Filthy cigarettes! One of my MSc students is doing a biochemistry research project with me on the toxicity of environmental cigarette butts. We spent less than two hours picking up cigarette butts from a few streets here in our neighbourhood, and even though we picked up only a fraction of the butts that were there, we managed to amass over 700 butts. The butts, me, my student and the room we examined them in stunk of tobacco!

Of the 6 trillion cigarettes smoked every year in the world, over 4 trillion cigarette butts end up on the streets. We are beginning to find out that, aside from the horrific diseases caused by tobacco being consumed, toxicity is also a problem. Cigarette butts eventually get washed into the waterways of our beautiful planet. There aren’t many studies of how toxic they are, but in one study, just a single cigarette butt leeched into one litre of water was enough to kill a small fish.

Here is a selection of articles that cover environmental cigarette butts. One article refers to a study in which over 17,000 cigarette butts were recovered from San Diego State University campus.



  1. What a coincidence, yesterday I was playing my weekly round of golf and I realized how many cigarette butts I picked up.
    One of my golf buddies smoked one cigarette per hole. It is disgusting the attitude of this people. The don’t care about themselves you can’t expect them to care about others and even more about th environment.

    1. The whole problem is disgusting, Adiel…. as I said, we tend to ignore this issue of cigarette butts littering and poisoning our environment because we are so used to it. The tobacco industry has insidiously conquered us and made us complacent about the environmental as well as the health dangers of cigarettes and tobacco.

  2. Interesting discussion – responsible and reputable environmental organizations large and small have been working to decrease negative affects of cigarette butts leaching into waterways for some time, perhaps strong and durable collective and coordinated activity with public health can move the needle more!?

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