In these apocalyptic days of single use plastic, death and destruction, we all now know that cigarette butts are sea-life death and they don’t biodegrade. However, despite this common knowledge, it’s a bit of a fucking pervasive problem; almost 6 trillion cigarettes are smoked worldwide per year, and with an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts (or 750,000 tonnes) chucked somewhere in the world that’s not a bin, every year. Butts are the most common form of litter found on beaches and in urban environments. So obviously they are fucking the environment, but those butts are beneficial to you, aren’t they?
Seeing as whenever you smoke a filtered cigarette you are also inhaling small particles of the filter, let’s have a look what’s in there.
Inside my butt
Most filters in the world are made of cellulose acetate, a natural plastic manufactured from purified natural cellulose. Other ingredients contained in a cigarette filter are:
– triacetin: plasticiser (applied to bond the fibres)
– titanium dioxide: delustrant (to reduce fibre shine)
– mineral oil: lubricant (for production of fibres)
– sorbitan monolaurate: surfactant or emulsifier
– ethoxylated sorbitan monolaurate: surfactant or emulsifier
There are other filter compositions available, such as organic cotton, but they make up only 5% of the global filter market.
The cellulose acetate plug is tightly wrapped in paper that is either air-impervious for regular cigarettes, or ventilated and porous in ‘light’ cigarettes. Therefore, filters vary in filtration efficiency depending upon filter ventilation. The cellulose acetate is stuck to the paper wrapper and wrapper sealed with a polyvinyl acetate emulsion…aka glue.
How am I fucking myself?
SO! What is the impact on your own personal lungs? Debatable, I suppose, if high lung cancer rates are a thing of opinion. In the US, it’s been found that although overall the rates of lung cancer in the general population have declined as people pay attention to the ‘you will die’ messaging, it’s also been found that rates of lung cancers among smokers have significantly risen, along with the types of lung cancer associated with said smoking.
Specifically speaking, since the 1950s, as changes have been made to the design and composition of cigarettes and their associated parts, diagnoses of adenocarcinoma (the lung cancer most associated with smoking), has more than quadrupled in men and increased eight-fold in women. The evidence shows, the researchers write, that more modern cigarettes are more risky for lung cancer. Bullshit, you say. But this idea is (not surprisingly) echoed by the US Surgeon General and the US National Cancer Institute: filters do not have any health benefits for smokers – in fact, cancer risks have actually increased over the 50 years they have been used.
‘How can this be!’ you cry, as did I. But here’s some interesting trivia for you: cigarette filters were originally designed to keep loose tobacco out of smokers’ mouths, not to protect their health. Their original intention was as a marketing tool to combat the cancer, making the smoke more palatable and reassuring smokers they were Doing Something Proactive to limit the now-obvious negative health consequences of smoking. Does this discourage people from quitting? Maybe. Is it giving a false sense of security? Probably. But enough about you.
How am I fucking the environment?
We all know about the sea turtles eating cigarette butts, and of their very incredibly slow method of going back to the earth from whence they came. I don’t want to preach on a topic that has millions of Google hits devoted to it. But I will say this: used butts are not just pieces of non-biodegradable plastic; they also contain all the carcinogens, nicotine and toxins found in all tobacco products, as well as their own toxic ingredients, ready and waiting to hit groundwater near you.
The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project has studied cigarette waste from multiple perspectives, including toxicity, accidental consumption by children and animals, and potential deleterious health effects. They found that one cigarette butt soaked in a litre of water for 96 hours leaches enough toxins to kill half of the fresh or salt water fish exposed to them.
Another study investigating the toxicity of butts found that cigarette butt leachate was toxic in all forms (not smoked, smoked and smoked with tobacco left over) and increased in toxicity respectively. So I guess if you’ve gotta smoke, smoke it all the way down to the filter. It’s the environmentally friendly way.
What are my alternatives?
- Biodegradable Filters: One alternative that will fuck both yourself and the environment somewhat less, is biodegradable filters. These filters (made by Raw, Ventti and Ranch) are generally made of unbleached cotton, and sometimes still a percentage of cellulose acetate (check the label before purchase; pretty sure Ventti’s ‘Earth’ Filters somewhat suck still). Ranch do the best biodegradable filters I’ve so-far found, if I can find them. As for an action that can alleviate your nicotine lung print on the Earth, it’s a half-assed one; biodegradable filters still leach that toxic tar, and smokers feel less guilty about dropping them.
- Seed Butt: A gimmick formed in the mind of evil geniuses I guess. There is no room left in this article for further research, but the idea that a seed is to grow from a carcinogenic nutrition base gives me the willies.
- E- Cigarette: An ever growing fad, e-cigarettes and vaping are now a popular alternative to cigarettes. But that comes with its own environmental contamination though batteries and used cartridges – notably less intense than the butt problem of course. We also have a handy article on e-vaping here to see how much it actually saves you from the health risks of ciggies.
- No Butts: Finally, you could just stop filtering your cigarettes. From what I’ve discovered here is that butts actually have negative effects on you with little benefit save you getting a bit o’ bakky in ya mouth.