Cite this article

NIDA. (2013, February 26). Butt In: Help Reduce Cigarette Butt Litter . Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
February 26 2013
Cigarette butts

We already know how harmful smoking is to your health, but did you know it can be bad for the environment?

Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the United States—and the world.

Since cigarette butts are so small, most people who smoke don’t think much about their effect on our environment. In fact, many smokers think putting out their cigarettes on the ground is the “right” thing to do. But the effects of tossing that butt are far from harmless.

Along with making sidewalks and parks look dirty, cigarette butts are a toxic threat to the environment and to wildlife. Here are some reasons why:

  • Cigarette filters are made from plastic that does not quickly degrade. Depending on the conditions, it can take 18 months to 10 years for a cigarette filter to decompose.
  • Cigarette filters are meant to absorb the toxins from cigarettes that are dangerous for people to inhale, such as tar—that means those toxins are being thrown on the ground with the filter and polluting the environment.
  • Cigarette butts also pollute our water, traveling through storm water systems to end up in streams, rivers, and waterways. Marine life can mistake them for food—in fact, plastic pieces from the filter have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales, and other marine animals. This can cause severe internal injuries, suffocation, starvation, and death.

So, what can you do to help? Spread the word and check out—sponsored by Keep America Beautiful—for ideas on how to reduce cigarette litter in your community.