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April 13th, 2007:

Mother Earth is Not an Ashtray


Is mother earth being rained upon by over two billion new cigarette butts each day? Although accurate butt facts are rare, that's an average of less than two cigarette butts daily from each of earth's 1.2 billion smokers. Look closely at the ground at any intersection. They're everywhere!


Are cigarette butts litter? Absolutely! But unlike paper products they're not biodegradable. Nearly all cigarette filters are composed of a bundle of 12,000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers. It can take years, in some cases up to fifteen, for the fibers to decay into a plastic powder that can't be seen. As they do, their deadly cargo is released.


The nicotine trapped inside 200 used filters is sufficient to kill an adult human --50 to 60 milligrams. Imagine a month without rain followed by a brief thunderstorm that washes hundreds of thousands of nicotine laden white and brown canoes - enough to kill 2,500 humans - into area creeks and streams. Aquatic life at the bottom of the food chain can pay a deadly price but so do the birds and fish who mistake them for food. Nicotine isn't the only villains as trapped tars and toxic gases leach into waterways too.


Tar refers to the more than three thousand five hundred chemical particles and five hundred gases generated by each burning cigarette that include arsenic, vinyl chloride, acetone, mercury and lead. Modern filters trap roughly half the tar while capturing one-third of a cigarette's formaldehyde and two-thirds of its hydrogen cyanide. Pick up a few dozen butts and take a big whiff. Smell the scent of bitter almonds? That's hydrogen cyanide.


It's sad that those chemically dependent upon regular nicotine feedings daily punish the environment with their not so empty empties, but it isn't all their fault. Although roughly 80% of all littered items along the three miles of highway roadside that I maintain are cigarette butts or their packaging, law enforcement officers have historically ignored those flicking lit butts. But why?


The entire world turns its collective head while mother earth serves as one big ashtray for 700 billion new littered butts each year. What message does such contempt for the land and laws send to our children? We need to either enforce our litter laws or repeal them. Together we can make a difference!



John R. Polito

Nicotine Cessation Counselor

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