Cigarette Education: Beyond Human Health

Figure 1. Cigarette Skull (Davies, 2012).

Figure 1. Cigarette Skull (Davies, 2012).

You smoke a cigarette, toss it on the floor, and it eventually decomposes, right?  Cigarette filters are made out of a form of plastic called acetate and depending on the environmental condition, it could take 18 months to 10 years for the cigarette filter to decompose (Martin, 2013). In addition, cigarette filters are full of toxins known as tar, the resinous tobacco residue that is leftover from the burning of tobacco “and those chemicals leach into the ground and waterways, damaging living organisms that contact them” (Martin, 2013, para 10). Furthermore, most cigarettes are not smoked all the way and contain bits of leftover tobacco that further pollutes our environment. Martin (2013) cites a statement by Keep America Beautiful that investigates why they believe cigarettes are the most commonly littered item:


“Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes than ever before, yet cigarette butts continue to be the most commonly littered item in the United States and around the world today. They specify two reasons for this statistic — lack of awareness on the smoker’s part, and the lack of availability of waste receptacles at ‘transition’ locations, such as outside stores and other buildings, and at public transportation pickup spots.”


Extensively used across the world by all types of people, cigarettes are smoked most often to ease the tension of everyday life. Due to the smoke and smell of cigarettes, people usually have cigarettes outside. Contaminating our parks, sidewalks, and waterways, this issue is growing rampantly. Containing hundreds of dangerous chemicals, this hazardous waste is filling pristine landscapes with trash. Although these cigarettes are small in size, “the 5 trillion cigarettes smoked around the world every year has become a large problem, a problem that weighs about 2 billion pounds” (Barnes, 2011, p. 45). Since a majority of all cigarettes purchased today are manufactured with a built-in filter, after a person smokes a cigarette they are left to dispose of the filter or butt. Even though the problem is partially the contents of the cigarette itself and the attached filter, improper disposal is feeding the fire.


Reasons For Concern


The primary cause for the rampant pollution of cigarette butts is the lack of proper cigarette disposal in established receptacles. Instead of throwing a used cigarette in the trash or placing it back into the cigarette pack, they are thrown on the ground. This act of tossing cigarettes on the ground after they have been used has become a social norm. Without the convenient placement of a cigarette receptacle, the ground is the next best thing to many smokers. Even when there are receptacles around, cigarettes are still tossed on the ground next to the trash. Compared to other trash, flicking cigarette butts to the ground is ordinary. Barnes (2011) states, “there are literally millions of points of deposits on the planet” (p. 45).  Without much thought by the smoker, the butts are tossed anywhere. Most people understand that littering is a bad practice, but to many, cigarette butts have become an exception to the no-littering rule. This exception causes the entire whole to be its trashcan. With the current rate of 1.1 billion smokers in the world today and a projected 1.6 billion by 2025, something needs to be done about this problem (Martin, 2013).


            Many non-smokers may believe that properly disposing cigarettes do not directly affect them. Yet, it was reported, “cigarette butts comprise an estimated 30% of the total litter along US shorelines, waterways and on land” (Barnes, 2011, p. 45). In the city of San Francisco, it costs about $11 million “annually to remove cigarette litter” (Kaufman, 2009, para 4). That in turn relates directly to money coming out of everyone’s taxes, so it does affect everyone. In order to cover the clean up in San Francisco, you would have to seek “a 33-cents-a-pack tax to cover the $11 million that the city spends annually to remove cigarette litter” (Kaufman, 2009). Now why wouldn’t it be a good idea to do just that? This is because it only mitigates the effects of cigarette disposal and it doesn’t actually solve the problem. We only end up spending more and more money cleaning up the mess instead of preventing it. To reduce the impact of cigarette butt litter on our environment, we need to educate students on the dangers of cigarette litter by implementing the information in health class curriculums.


Furthermore, all the cigarettes that end up in our waters pose a serious threat to our marine life. During the breakdown of the cigarette remnants, toxic chemicals have the ability to leak out. When manufacturing a cigarette and growing tobacco, as many as 4,000 chemicals may be introduced to the environment through pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides (Slaughter et al, 2011, p. 1). Slaughter et al. (2011) prove through their experiment that toxicity of cigarette butts increase from unsmoked filters (no tobacco) to smoked filters (no tobacco) to smoked cigarettes (tobacco) (p. 1). This study affirmed that improper disposal of cigarettes and the resulting littering of our waterways is dangerous to the environment. Just as humans breathe in secondhand smoke, marine life now breathes in cigarette-contaminated water. In an additional study done by Clean Virginia Waterways, they proved that “ in approximately two gallons of water, one cigarette butt is fatal to exposed water fleas, a tiny crustacean found in freshwater and saltwater” (Martin, 2013). Although water fleas are extremely tiny, this study shows the damage one cigarette can have on marine life. If the study were to increase the number of cigarettes, it is likely that the size of the animals affected would also increase. By increasing the cigarette number by a moderate million fold, we would begin to reach the number of cigarettes in the oceans. If we start to think about how much toxicity is being released into our waters, the prevention programs statistics “show that butts constitute 28 percent to 33 percent of all litter nationwide” and that “butts account for 28 percent of littered items washing up on beaches worldwide” (Kaufman, 2009). This 28 percent contaminates the water and harms marine life. It is important that we implement a plan to deter the movement of cigarette litter into the waterways.


Resistant Audience


Cigarette companies have been under heavy scrutinization since the finding of health impacts. The beginning of concern began, “first in the 1920s and then again 30 and 40 years later, after the dangers of cigarettes was brought to the public’s attention” (History of Smoking, 2011). Showing initially the increase rate of lung cancer found in smokers, cigarettes have since been diagnosed to cause many other health problems. Due to these findings, the manufacturers now have to face an extensive amount of smoking related laws. These laws require such things as the warning of its likelihood to cause cancer, the heavy taxing of its product, and media campaigns against smoking. These laws act as a roadblock against the manufacturers, reducing the growth of companies.


With all of these laws against the cigarette manufacturers, there is a greater chance for the companies to make less money. As the manufacturers lose profits, they are likely to hire less workers and increase work loads of remaining employees. They are also less likely to need the same amounts of tobacco, because they will have less of a market to supply. Supplying, “an estimated 33 million jobs to farmers, about 15 million jobs to the manufacturers and another 10 million jobs to create the other cigarette supplies needed” (Warner, 2000, p. 78), the production of cigarettes plays a role in the world’s economy. Additional opposition against cigarettes will hurt both the cigarette manufacturers and the workers that depend on this daily income. 


When arguing against smoking, many tend to lean on the fact that cigarettes are bad for your health and this increases the chances of you dying earlier. Due to the fact that cigarettes create health problems, it would be common sense to believe that it costs a country more money to take care of the smokers’ health compared to those who abstain from smoking. In reality this is actually a false statement. When compared side by side, “the cost of caring for non-smokers minus the cost of caring for smokers almost equals out to zero” (Warner, 2000, p. 81). This is due to the fact that smokers are more likely to die earlier and thus don’t have to be taken care of for as long as the non-smokers who tend to live longer. Many health problems arise as we age; the major cost difference is how long a patient needs to be taken care of.


Against Resistant Audience


Cigarette manufacturers may play a large economic role for a few specific countries, but in the United States, “cigarette manufacturing only makes up 1.6% of the jobs found in the six central tobacco US states” (Warner, 2000, p. 78). In addition to this, farmers who grow tobacco in their fields are only growing a small crop. The rest of their field is planted with other various crops. Thus, the lost of growing tobacco would not affect farmers to a great extent. The money that would be spent on cigarettes does not vanish when cigarettes aren’t available either. This money will be spent on other goods and support the economy through other avenues. This extra revenue may help keep other businesses open that provide beneficial goods to the public.


Comparing the health problems attributed to smoking versus all other causes of illness is ludicrous. Reducing the number of smokers and the pollution results is better for the environment and humans everywhere. Living your life attached to a cigarette damages your health and doesn’t allow you to live your life to the fullest. Even if you aren’t sick, cigarettes deter your health, acting as a ball and chain.  


The Solution


            Our goal is to focus on reducing the impact of cigarette butts on our environment through education. It has become a social norm for people to smoke and discard the filter anywhere. The second part of that statement can be changed. Similarly, it is normal for people to have sexual intercourse, but it is up to them whether to use protection or not. Comprehensive sex education programs, which stress abstinence, contraception, and condoms, have helped many youth avoid negative sexual health outcomes (Advocates for Youth, 2009). A study done by the National Survey of Family Growth discovered that teens aged 15-19 who received comprehensive sex education were 50% less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received none (Advocates for Youth, 2009). Additionally, two thirds of the 48 comprehensive sex education programs had positive effects such as a 40% delayed sexual initiation, increased use of condoms, or contraceptive use; as well as a 60% reduction in unprotected sex (Advocates for Youth, 2009).


 We believe that through education we can slowly reduce the impact of cigarette butts, but it has to start with our younger and upcoming generation. According to Kids Health, “an estimated nine out of 10 smokers begin smoking before age 18”, so it would be best to implement a plan that would educate them about the environmental impacts that cigarettes have (Nall, 2009, para 2). It would eventually be looked down upon if you did not dispose of your cigarettes properly and it would no longer become a social norm. A lot of people are not aware of the impact and that is why they do not think twice about where they dispose of their cigarette. Martin (2013) states that, “I didn’t think twice about leaving a trail of cigarette litter behind me, but had i known how my actions affected our environment, I would have been much more careful” (para 1). Comparably, many people were unaware about STDS and things of that nature before it was enforced for students to be educated about the dangers of it and ways to prevent it and now people always think twice about putting on protection before intercourse because of that.


            In prior years, many people were unaware of the health issues that cigarettes presented and now you see it on commercials, cigarette packs, and in schools, which inform you of the related diseases and risks. Novotny et al. (2009) state that: “ In the last ten years, the per capita consumption of cigarettes declined almost 20% in the United States” (p.11). Through educating people of the dangers of cigarettes we reduced the consumption by 20%, which also means we decreased the number of butts that may have ended up on the ground by 20%. This is why we believe that education is the answer to reducing the amount of butts that are improperly disposed.


 Funded by the government, each state would be required to implement an additional section to health class. Students in high school typically take a Health Education course that deals with the dangers of cigarettes. These dangers focus on the health degradation caused by cigarettes and fail to mention the environmental side. The instructor should dedicate one class to this problem and inform the students of the environmental impact and encourage them to dispose of cigarettes properly.


To teach this section adequately, the instructor would need to go through an additional workshop. This workshop would compare to other teacher workshops and convey to the teachers this important cigarette information. It is very important that the students are taught the correct information so that they are properly informed on the issues affecting them. It would be a good idea for the government to help fund this project because they already spent millions and millions of dollars cleaning up the mess of cigarette filters and it would cost a lot less to help fund this project and eventually see results that will help them save money.


Closing Statement


            There is a large majority of the world’s population that fails to realize the implications cigarette litter can have on the environment. In order to stop the ritual littering of cigarette butts in urban and rural settings, the children need to be better educated on the detrimental effects of cigarettes on the environment. Although the school does a good job at educating the kids on the effects cigarettes have on our health, they fail to encompass the effects on the environment. This change in social norms will be slow at first, but as a greater amount of kids learn these facts the culture will begin to change. Throwing cigarette butts on the ground will become taboo and looked down upon by the masses. The best way to help the environment from the hazards of improper cigarette disposal is to educate the masses that choose to smoke them.    






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Eric Kuhn, Environmental Science

Kevin Lee, Building and Construction Technology



  1. Cigarette smoking is one of the most harmful behaviors that people engage in, but many people still believe that it will not affect them and their families. I prefer to get and learn more new ways of construction. This article will share information about Cigarette Smoking and other health issues that can be caused by smoking cigarettes.

  2. In addition to emphysema and chronic bronchitis, smoking also increases the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung conditions, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking also raises the risk of developing tuberculosis, some eye conditions, and immune system issues, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

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