Cigarette butts or filters are the most common form of litter in westernised countries. It is estimated 4.5 trillion end up as litter on our streets not including discarded packs and their cellophane wrappers.
Keep your butt of the street.
Cigarette filters are not biodegradable as cellulose acetate, a form of plastic is one of the components that make up the butt and never breaks down. A high number of these filters which contain hundreds of harmful chemicals are swept into the water system were the poisons leak out. Carelessly discarded cigarette butts are also the main cause of house and forest fires the world over. We only have to look at the huge forest fires outside Los Angeles in May 2007 to show the needless destruction of natural parkland around the famous Hollywood sign due to a single discarded cigarette butt.
Fish, birds, animals and even children have been known to eat these filters inadvertently causing blocked digestive and excretory systems, poisoning and even death, all are which are preventable if the filters were deposited responsibly in ashtrays by the smoker, instead of discarded on the ground.
The tobacco industry could also implement steps to minimise the effects of discarded filters on the environment from printing ‘Do not litter’ slogans on packs or even on the cigarette itself. This can be done in words or pictures as on most confectionary items.
The tobacco industry could also invest some of their huge cash profits into a program of supplying ‘personal ashtrays’ with every pack of cigarettes or sell them as they do lighters or even build into the design of a lighter a holder for cigarette filters.
Unfortunately the tobacco industry seems to think the best course of action is to maintain a low profile while working to exempt cigarettes from coverage of pending litter control legislation. It believes the courtesy should be limited to the smoking of, rather than the disposal of tobacco products and by backing any fees or taxes to help clean up cigarette litter, they would be buying into the social cost argument against smoking.
Although a ‘no-litter’ campaign might be useful to tobacco companies, they would never be implemented before comprehensive cost/benefit analysis had taken place. It is obvious the tobacco industry cares little for the environment against their bottom line. However, governments and public opinion could open the eyes of these corporations and hit them were it hurts if anti- littering laws were upheld and the tobacco industry were to foot the bill for cleaning up our streets and water supply.
The medical and scientific evidence of tobacco smoking is widely known as a major cause of cancer and premature death. However what is not publicized is the effect the tobacco industry has on the earth’s protective ozone layer.
In the farming of tobacco, Methyl Bromide is used to fumigate soil. This gas is odourless, highly toxic and kills all living organisms. Over 5.5 million pounds of the substance is applied annually to tobacco crops. The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as one of the most lethal of acutely toxic pesticides. Those who come into contact with it can suffer poisoning, neurological damage and reproductive harm. It also destroys the ozone layer. The depletion of the ozone layer leads to more global warning, increased skin cancer and eye cataracts from UV-B radiation. Couple this with the amount of chemical laden smoke released daily into the air and forest fires caused by carelessly deposited cigarette filters and vicious cycle starts to appear.
Over 450 pesticide products are registered in the USA alone for the use on tobacco crops. Approximately 90% of American-style tobacco is now grown by farmers in 78 countries outside of the USA and the US are now the largest importer of tobacco. This has had a huge effect on small farming, family communities throughout the US. The majority of these small farms have long gone after being sold to large companies. Some 500,000 existed in the 1950’s, today around 85,000 struggle for survival. The tobacco companies blame the reduction of domestic tobacco demands on the decline of cigarette sales. However this 4-5% reduction does not compare to the 35% reduction in purchasing home grown tobacco.
Developing countries now produce the majority of American style tobacco. The crops are grown on small independent farms, under strict contracts with the corporations, which provide all inputs through a carefully controlled system of loans and credits. The tobacco companies provide credit for the farmers to build drying sheds to cure the tobacco leaf after harvest. This debt can take many years to repay and during this period farmers are also buying seeds, fertilizers and pesticides from the company increasing the debt burden.
Farmers are paid for the crop according to the quality of the harvest. In years of drought and other extreme weather conditions that seem to be more prevalent every year, crops can be destroyed forcing the farmers into selling the farm to pay back debts to the corporation and moving to the cities and favelas.
Ironically the amount of land currently used to grow tobacco worldwide could instead be used to feed 10 to 20 million people. When good farmland is diverted to grow tobacco crops, governments may find themselves facing local food shortages and bearing the additional cost of importing food.
To ensure the continues high profit margins tobacco companies ruthlessly pursue, millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are used on millions of acres of land worldwide, land that could be or was once used to grow food. The global epidemic of the tobacco industry not only endangers smokers, it also threatens tobacco farmers and their families, pollutes the air we breathe, destroys insects and micro organisms at the bottom of the food chain, depletes the ozone layer that protects us, contaminates soil and poisons the water supply. We all should question the sustainability and sanity of the tobacco industry.
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