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Newspaper Column


No Ifs, Ands or Butts… Put Discarded Cigarettes in Their Place

By Dearbhla Lynch, Health Promoter

Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit

If the risks of deadly second-hand cigarette smoke are obvious, why don’t we realize the harm posed by the trillions of used cigarette butts tossed out every year?

The ‘t’ in trillions isn’t a typo. A study published in March 2016 in the Tobacco Control medical journal suggests nearly five trillion cigarette butts are thrown away globally each year, making them “the most commonly discarded waste product in the world.”

In a recent column, environmentalist David Suzuki questions why we are so careless. He notes that people who would never consider littering seem to have no qualms with flicking cigarettes butts away without regard for where they land. The problem may seem trivial, Dr. Suzuki suggests, but it’s not.

He raises a good point. Would we use the same approach for disposing of old pesticides, medical waste or unused paints as we do cigarette butts? Likely not.

The fact is that discarded cigarette butts are more than an eyesore. They end up tossed onto the ground, leeching into soil or getting washed into storm drains where they pollute water.

Cigarette butts can also be toxic to young children, pets and wildlife. When swallowed by a child, the nicotine in cigarette butts can be poisonous or lead to vomiting, nausea, gagging, and a pale or flushed appearance. Animals are also at risk of nicotine poisoning and suffering similar discomforts if they ingest cigarette butts.

While the paper and tobacco in cigarette butts are biodegradable, filters take longer to break down – meaning the environmental threat posed by cigarettes can last for years.

Then there is the potential fire hazard of tossing a still-lit cigarette butt out a car window or flicking it into bushes. Imagine the damage that could be done in extremely hot and dry conditions like those we experienced this past summer.

Many governments are seeking solutions to this burning issue. In October, Toronto City Council approved a bylaw requiring business owners to clean up cigarette butts outside of their establishments or install outdoor disposal bins for cigarette butts. Failure to obey the new bylaw could result in a $300 fine. In Vancouver, a cigarette butt recycling program has been operating since 2013. The pilot program has seen more than 100 cigarette recycling receptacles set up around the downtown area for smokers to dispose of their butts. To date, more than 200 pounds of cigarette butts have been collected in these receptacles for recycling.

Smokers can do their part too by ensuring cigarette butts are completely extinguished and safely disposed of in ashtrays. While these butts will likely wind up as garbage going to municipal landfills, at least they end up in engineered facilities designed to safely store waste products.

By butting out completely, smokers can make an even bigger difference by cutting off the source of the problem. While quitting is never easy, the Health Unit ( has many quit-smoking support programs and resources to help.

Let’s move our collective butts to act, realizing cigarettes are both a health and environmental hazard!