Cigarette Butt Litter

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Cigarette butts are the most frequently littered items in the United States today. Tobacco products make up roughly 38 percent of all U.S. roadway litter and comprise nearly 30 percent of litter at "transition points", which are defined as areas where individuals consuming a food or tobacco product must discard the product before entering, such as the entrances to office buildings or retail stores.

Because a cigarette butt is relatively small, smokers tend to overlook the consequences of littering. Some believe they're acting responsibly when they extinguish cigarettes by dropping them on the ground. But those butts don't disappear. About 95 percent of cigarette filters are comprised of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that does not quickly degrade and can persist in the environment. Depending on the conditions of the area where the cigarette butt is discarded, it can take 18 months to 10 years for it to decompose.

Some smokers also erroneously assume that dropping butts into gutters or drains is a safe way to extinguish them. Many of those cigarette butts travel through storm water systems and end up in local streams and rivers polluting waterways. Cigarette butt litter can also pose a hazard to animals and marine life when they mistake the filters for food.

A 2009 Keep America Beautiful litter study revealed a 65 percent littering rate among smokers. Both the availability of ash receptacles and the amount of existing litter affected the littering rate. Smokers are more likely to litter when an ash receptacle or trash can is not close by. Littering is also more likely to occur when the environment contains any type of litter, not just cigarette butts.

Study results show that smokers under 30 years old are more likely to litter than those individuals who are older. It stated that age, and not gender, is a significant predictor of littering behavior.

Visit these websites or more information about cigarette litter:

Tackling the Problem

Preventing cigarette litter requires changing individual behavior. Smokers are encouraged to properly dispose of cigarettes butts in ash receptacles and trash cans, or to use a pocket ashtray when receptacles are not available. For every additional ash receptacle, the littering rate for cigarette butts decreases 9 percent. Businesses and facilities should consider increasing the number of available trash cans and ash receptacles at their establishment if cigarette litter persists.

There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today, and if current trends continue, the number is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2025. If you're a smoker thinking about quitting, there are many resources and programs available. Cigarettes pollute the air we breathe and the ground we walk on. When you quit smoking you're contributing to the health and well-being of your environment and your body.

Visit these websites or more information about how to quit smoking:

"Cigarette Butt Litter Public Service Announcement"


(1 minute, 16 seconds)

"One Man's Stand Against Cigarette Litter in Port St. Lucie "


(1 minute, 56 seconds)