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Cigarette butts can do big damage

POSTED: June 3, 2013 10:28 a.m.

Want to see something nasty? Just walk out to the nearest sidewalk or curb near you and chances are you will see a bunch of nasty cigarette butts tossed by passing mindless smokers. Yuck!

I have never really liked being around smokers or smoke. Smoking does a number on my system, but the choice to smoke is a personal one for adults — as long as they do not smoke around children, senior citizens, people who are eating, in public places, etc.

However, the one thing that smokers need to realize is that streets and sidewalks and waterways are not ashtrays.

According to information from the American Legacy Foundation on, cigarette smoking in the United States has decreased 28 percent in the past decade, yet cigarette butts remain the most littered item in the U.S. and across the globe.  

According to the 2009 Keep America Beautiful study “Litter in America,” the overall littering rate for cigarette butts is 65 percent, and tobacco products comprise 38 percent of all U.S. roadway litter.  Much of this ends up being washed by rain or blown by winds into our waterways. The Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 International Coastal Cleanup statistics note cigarette butts as the most littered item, representing 32 percent of all items collected.

So why do smokers litter? Most often — at least, I would like to believe this — it is smokers’ lack of awareness about the environmental impact of cigarette litter.  The lack of available ash receptacles in public places also is cited in some studies, but that seems pretty lame to me. New ordinances are moving more smokers outdoors or to designated areas, and during the past decade auto makers have phased out ash trays as a standard feature in new cars.

Here is why littering cigarette butts and cigar tips are an emerging concern: It is unsightly and nasty, costly to clean up and harmful to waterways and wildlife.

• When it comes to cigarette-butt litter, we all pay. It requires additional sidewalk and street sweeping, greenway and park maintenance, storm-drain cleaning and increased maintenance of stormwater filters. Business owners bear the expense of cigarette-butt litter cleanup around facilities.  Guess who they have to pass those costs on to? Their customers.
• A cigarette butt or cigar tip dropped to the ground seems insignificant.  But follow that butt as it’s carried off by rain into storm drains and eventually to streams and rivers. It now adds up to a big impact on the places we live: In fact, says 32 of litter at storm drains is tobacco products.  
• Cigarette-butt litter creates blight. It accumulates in gutters, outside doorways and bus shelters.
• About 95 percent of cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, which does not degrade quickly and can persist in the environment up to two or more years in modest estimates.
• Litter traveling through storm drains and water systems can end up in local streams, rivers and waterways. According to, nearly 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources.
Thank goodness for groups like our local American Red Cross Red Club. These faithful volunteers not only are picking up cigarette litter, they also are monitoring sites near two of the main gates to Fort Stewart to see if their awareness campaign is making a difference in these areas. In the first two litter scans of this monitoring effort, they collected about 17,000 butts combined.
The club is trying to raise awareness through campaigns at the gates, giving out literature on the problems associated with cigarette litter as well as giving out free pocket ashtrays and car ashtrays to smokers as they drive through. These items have been provided to us through a small grant provided by Keep America Beautiful. Thanks again, Red Club.
One day, we may be able to see clean curbs and sidewalks in our community instead of those nasty butts.

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