Cigarette butts are a major source of litter. Photo by stevendepolo via Flickr.
The day long-dreaded by smokers in Turkey has finally arrived, the day that extends a ban on smoking in workplaces and public spaces to cafes, restaurants, and bars in a country where 22 million people -- including half of all adult men -- regularly light up. Gleefully awaited by non-smoking spouses and others who prefer their meals sans a side of smoke and clothes that don't smell like an ashtray after a night out, the ban has health impacts that are obvious and cultural ones that are much discussed. But how will it affect the environment?
Last year, the Anatolia news agency reported that cigarette butts and packaging accounted for 73.8 percent of the 5,321 kilograms of waste collected by volunteers with the Turkish Marine Environment Protection Association (TURMEPA) at 24 coastal areas throughout the country.
Only the second developing nation, after Uruguay, to implement a comprehensive ban on smoking, Turkey will now charge a fine of 25 Turkish Liras for throwing cigarette butts or related waste on the ground. (Smoking itself incurs a fine of 68 liras.)
Butts On The Beach
In the United States, where smoking is much less socially accepted than in Turkey, "smoking-related activities" -- including cigarette butts and filters, cigar tips, tobacco packaging and wrappers, and cigarette lighters -- create 34.9 percent of the marine debris, the Ocean Conservancy reported in its 2005 national summary for the International Coastal Cleanup. Cigarettes are the top type of garbage gathered in the cleanups, with 1,008,288 collected in 2005.
Worldwide, an estimated 30 percent of the 4.3 trillion cigarette butts disposed of annually end up as litter, creating more than 500,000 tons of pollution each year. Cigarette filters, made of the synthetic polymer cellulose acetate, never degrade, but quickly start leaching cadmium, lead, arsenic and other chemicals into marine ecosystems -- and can end up in the stomachs of birds, fish, and other animals.
Nicotine itself "has been shown to be lethal to species of fish, crustaceans, zooplankton, and other aquatic organisms, as well as being a known insecticide," according to the environmental group Californians Against Waste, which also notes the costs incurred by municipal governments to clean up cigarette-related litter.
"On top of the costs of litter abatement, fires caused by discarded cigarettes result in billions of damages, as well as the destruction of human life, wildlife, and entire ecosystems," Californians Against Waste concludes. "It is hard to imagine a more menacing litter culprit than the cigarette butt." All the more reason, ban proponents say, to stamp them out -- for good.
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