"[Cigarette butts] also present a threat to wildlife. Cigarette filters have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures who mistake them for food ... Composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, cigarette butts can persist in the environment as long as other forms of plastic."
There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding cigarette butt litter. The biggest myth is that cigarette filters are biodegradable. In fact, cigarette butts are not biodegradable in the sense that most people think of the word. The acetate (plastic) filters can take many years to decompose. Smokers may not realize that their actions have such a lasting, negative impact on the environment.
This myth has been perpetuated not just by the wishful thinking of many smokers, but also by the cigarette companies, who have taken great pains to keep their customers in the dark on this issue. It is very common for highly littered items such as soda cans, snack wrappers, and fast food containers to have a simple "Please Don't Litter" message. You won't find such a message on cigarette packs. Although our contacts in the industry are at a loss as to why they can't take this simple step, our best guess is that they would prefer to leave their customers blissfully ignorant. Maybe they think that people will smoke fewer cigarettes if they have to be responsible for disposing of them. We think they ought to give their customers the benefit of the doubt. Smoking and littering do not have to be synonymous, as many smokers have proven by example.
What happens after that butt gets casually flicked onto the street, nature trail, or beach? Typically wind and rain carry the cigarette into the water supply, where the toxic chemicals the cigarette filter was designed to trap leak out into aquatic ecosystems, threatening the quality of the water and many aquatic lifeforms. Cigarette butts may seem small, but with several trillion butts littered every year, the toxic chemicals add up!