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3 things you can do about toxic cigarette litter

Cigarette litter is far more than an eyesore. It’s toxic trash.  

About 4.5 trillion cigarettes are discarded each year worldwide, making cigarette butts the most littered item on earth. Littered cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals — such as arsenic (used to kill rats) and lead, to name a few — into the environment, leading to land, water and air pollution. 

What can you do about it? Here are three things that could make a big difference.

1. Host a cigarette butt cleanup.

Cleanups can help increase awareness about the extent of cigarette butt pollution and why it’s important to stop cigarette litter. For starters, the butts barely break down. Nearly all — 98 percent — of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers. The plastic, cellulose acetate, only degrades under severe biological circumstances, such as when filters collect in sewage.

Several groups host regular cleanups, including Surfrider Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting oceans and beaches. These cleanups can make a big impact. For example, Surfrider Foundation’s Hold on to Your Butt program in San Francisco reports that volunteers and staff from youth programs routinely collect thousands of cigarette butts during each two-hour cleanup. Earlier this year, the city of San Francisco adopted the program as part of its efforts to expand awareness about the dangers of tobacco-related litter and pollution.

People can also organize their own cleanups. A bag, gloves and comfortable shoes are all you need to host a cigarette butt cleanup in your community, according to truth®, which is encouraging young people to organize cleanups in their neighborhoods. truth has been spreading awareness about the environmental impact of cigarette litter with its video on the topic that aired during the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards.

2. Support the movement to end tobacco use.

Cigarette litter will end when tobacco use does. That means changing the culture around tobacco. Enter truth, and the many ways it exposes the facts about tobacco and offers ways for young people to take action.

In addition to cigarette butt cleanups, truth organizes young people around issues like smoke-free spaces, tobacco use in pop culture, tobacco and mental health and tobacco sales in pharmacies, to name just a few.

Join the efforts, or encourage the young people in your life to join.

3. Help people quit.

Eliminating cigarette litter for good also means helping smokers quit.

There are many programs that can help people quit tobacco, including BecomeAnEX®, a digital quit-smoking program developed by Truth Initiative® in collaboration with Mayo Clinic. It can take some smokers an average of 30 attempts before successfully quitting. To help someone on their quit journey, there are many things you can do to support them, including these three expert tips.

For more information on how cigarette litter impacts the environment, read the Truth Initiative fact sheet on tobacco and the environment.

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