Lawmakers offer a modest proposal for reducing tobacco litter

Karen dePeyster

Two New York State Legislators have introduced a bill aimed at improving health for both people and the planet. The Tobacco Waste Reduction Act, sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Judy Griffin, would prohibit the sale of single-use filtered cigarettes, attachable single-use filters, and single-use e-cigarettes, and establish fines of up to $1500 for each violation. The purpose of the bill is to reduce public harm caused by smoking and to reduce environmental harm caused by litter from cigarette butts and e-cigarette components.

Filtered cigarettes were introduced in the ‘50s and became common in the ‘60s. Today 99.7% of cigarettes sold in the US are filtered. Abundant research shows that cigarette filters do not make smoking less harmful and are primarily a marketing tool to create the illusion of safety. Even the fact that filters turn brown with use is part of the deception; actually the color change is caused by added chemicals. To quote the inventor of the color-changing filter himself: “When the tip is darkened after smoking, it is automatically judged to be effective. While the use of such colour change material would have little or no effect on the actual efficiency of the filter tip material, the advertising and sales advantages are obvious.”

Cigarette butts, so casually discarded by smokers, are the most littered item in the United States. Of the 249 billion cigarettes consumed in this country ever year, only 10% of butts are disposed of in litter receptacles. (A survey conducted by the organization Keep America Beautiful found that 77% of people don’t even think of cigarette butts as litter.) Many smokers mistakenly believe that grinding a butt into the ground or throwing it into the gutter is acting responsibly.

But cigarette butts are actually small packets of contaminates that contribute to soil and water pollution. Filters are made of a form of plastic called cellulose acetate, which can take 10 years or more to break down into micro-particles that never really go away. As they decompose they leach arsenic, lead, formaldehyde, nicotine, tar and other toxins into whatever environment they are tossed, or travel through run-off and storm drains into broader ecosystems, which can have effects throughout the food chain.

The proposed Tobacco Waste Reduction Act offers a simple, sensible way to confront a human and environmental problem. In the spirit of Earth Day, more people should know about it. To read the full bill go to:

Karen dePeyster is the Program Director of Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia & Greene Counties, a program of the Healthcare Consortium.

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