Thursday, January 3, 2019

Keep Your Butts to Yourself... And OFF My Car!

This morning I was driving to work behind a Ford F-150 truck. We came to a stop at a red light and the driver of the truck flicked a cigarette out of his window and it landed on the hood of my car... still burning! I jumped out of my car and wiped the hot cigarette off before it could damage the paint. As I was doing that, the light changed and the truck took off. This is not my first experience with a lit cigarette hitting my car. Many years ago I had purchased a Subaru Legacy that had a sunroof. After only owning the car for a few weeks, I was driving along on a sunny day with the sunroof open when all of a sudden the driver in front of me flicked a cigarette out of his window and the burning butt drifted directly into my sunroof and wedged into the back seat, burning a hole through the fabric before I could pull over and remove it.

As I ran across states and countries promoting health and fitness, I saw countless cigarette butts carelessly discarded. I also witnessed many drivers discarding their cigarettes while driving down the road... those cigarettes being blown to the road's edge on a hot day when there was plenty of dry grass and weeds. Too many cigarette users use the planet as their ashtray -- just discarding their burning butts wherever and whenever they feel like it, not giving a second thought to the people and environment around them.

Some states have laws against discarding cigarettes anywhere other than on the cigarette users own property. For instance, in Idaho it is illegal to throw your cigarette out of a window or drop it on the ground. The consequences are that the first two convictions are infractions with fines and the third conviction is a misdemeanor with possible jail time.

Cigarette butt litter accounts for around 50 percent of all litter and studies show that butts are often discarded within ten feet of a permanent ashtray. Also, they are a fire hazard. A recent study showed that cigarette waste easily meets standardized tests for city and state agencies to label the substance as toxic waste. This hazardous material persists in the environment for some time and is often ingested by aquatic creatures, wildlife, and pets, not to mention small children who suffer serious health problems as a result. Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that can break into smaller pieces, but will never biodegrade or disappear. What’s worse is that the filters themselves are a sham. It has been demonstrated that the filters offer no health protection and are simply a marketing device to give the appearance that a cigarette is somehow safer.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on small children who had ingested cigarette butts concluded that one-third of them exhibited symptoms of illness such as spontaneous vomiting, nausea, lethargy, gagging, and flushing. Cigarette butts leach toxins into the water and kill or injure various forms of wildlife. In addition, the plastic parts of cigarette butts can be ingested by fish, birds, whales and other marine animals. According to the Surfrider Foundation, cigarette butts are the most frequent item collected during the group’s beach cleanups. The good news is that smoke-free beach laws help reduce cigarette butts on beaches by 45 percent, according to the Audubon Society.

The cleanup costs surrounding cigarette butts are considerable. Major cities and municipalities spend between $3 million to $16 million per year cleaning up cigarette butts. San Francisco, which has reported spending $11 million per year on cigarette butt cleanup, has proposed a first of its kind fee on tobacco retailer licenses to help recover the cost of cleanup. It is expected that more cities and states will label cigarette butts as toxic waste and pursue policies to address this serious environmental problem.

Just a few months ago, NBC News published a story about cigarette butt pollution problem. The article states that the vast majority of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes manufactured worldwide each year come with filters that contain a form of plastic that can take a decade or more to decompose. It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of those filters are dumped irresponsibly each year. The Ocean Conservancy has sponsored a beach cleanup every year since 1986. For 32 consecutive years, cigarette butts have been the single most collected item on the world’s beaches. The amount of cigarette butts collected is about one-third of all collected items on beaches -- more than plastic wrappers, containers, bottle caps, eating utensils and bottles, combined!

If you're a cigarette user, please... keep your butts to yourself!

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso