For an Ocean free from cigarette butts


Organized on May 31, World No Tobacco Day reminds us of the dangers of tobacco, both on our health and the environment. This year the World Health Organization (WHO) focuses on the environmental impact of cigarettes through a report "Tobacco: poisoning our planet". Let's review the conclusions of this report and the real impact of tobacco on our environment.

Cigarette butts thrown on land end up in the sea

Every year, 4,500 billion cigarette butts are thrown on the ground around the world. This common gesture for many people is heavy with consequences. With the wind or the rain, cigarette butts are carried to the sewers or waterways before ending their life in the ocean.

The plague of cigarette butts is not limited to cities, they are the most common waste found on our shores during the Ocean Initiatives collections. In addition to being the public enemy N°1 of our beaches, the tobacco industry's waste pollutes throughout its whole lifecycle.

For its culture which uses about 200 000 hectares of land per year, tobacco is an active player in deforestation impacting entire ecosystems.

The WHO report traces the impacts of this industry on our environment from the cultivation of tobacco plants to production and waste.

Cigarettes, a real chemical cocktail

1 cigarette butt pollutes up to 500L of water. With the amount of cigarette butts found during the Ocean Initiatives in 2021, it is the equivalent of the water consumption of the Chinese population over 1 year that would be polluted.

This large-scale pollution is not without consequences for marine life, as it encounters a real cocktail of chemical components.

Cigarette filters pose two major problems. First, plastic pollution since they are composed of cellulose acetate, which in contact with water degrades into micro and nano particles of plastic. Then, a chemical pollution because once the cigarette is consumed the filter condenses more than 2500 toxic substances such as arsenic, mercury, ammonia, lead, and nicotine. The cigarette butts when they reach the ocean release all these toxic chemicals. They are found in 70% of seabirds. Thus, the INERIS classifies the butts as dangerous waste since they are ecotoxic.

Put an end to cigarette butt pollution

Faced with this pollution, we must never throw our cigarette butts on the ground: we must make sure to throw our cigarettes in the trash or in the pocket ashtray that we carry. 

Remember that in many countries it is punished by law to throw a waste on the ground and that the public authorities sanction a fine for throwing a cigarette butt on the ground. 

In France, to reduce the presence of cigarette butts in the public space, the anti-waste law for a circular economy (AGEC) subjects cigarette butts to the extended responsibility of the producer and imposes a separate collection channel for this waste. This implies, in application of the polluter pays principle, that the tobacco industry pays an ecocontribution to an eco-organization in charge of the collection and treatment of butts. Street ashtrays and a communication campaign will be deployed in the public space. 

Much remains to be done to reduce tobacco pollution throughout its life cycle. 

The first habit, to protect the ocean and our health, is to throw your cigarette butt in the trash, not on the ground.

To better understand the extent of cigarette butts pollution discover our infographics.

Discover the infographics

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