Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

March 27th, 2011:

Economics Studies


An excerpt from a currently unpublished study conducted by the San Francisco Department of the Environment

More than 360 billion cigarettes were consumed in the U.S. in 2007. Cigarette consumption results in the littering of cigarette butts and other tobacco-related packaging. Tobacco product litter, particularly cigarette butts, has been shown to be toxic, slow to decompose, costly to manage, and growing in volume—a trend that appears to be exacerbated by the increased prevalence of indoor smoking bans. Growing concern over cigarette butt litter has prompted states and municipalities to undertake a variety of policy initiatives. In this report we estimate the costs of tobacco product litter (“TPL”) to the City of San Francisco. We focus mainly on direct costs, but the indirect costs associated with environmental impact and tourism—while not the basis for the fee discussed herein–are also discussed. The overall objective is to calculate a cost-per-pack (of cigarettes) that offsets the costs of TPL incurred by the City. TPL is estimated to cost the City $7,487,916 after applying data from the City’s 2009 Streets Litter Audit. Based on a per annum pack consumption of 30.6 million, the City would need to charge a “maximum permissible fee” of $0.22 per pack to recover the costs of TPL.

Toxicity studies

SDSU public health researcher and CBAG Member Richard Gersberg evaluated the effects left-over cigarette butts have on marine life and found that the chemicals from just one filtered cigarette butt had the ability to kill half the fish living in a 1-liter container of water.  Cigarette filters are made of cellulose-acetate, which is not biodegradable.

Standardized test fish (top smelt in salt water, flat-head minnows in fresh water) were used in this study, performed according to standards recommended by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and was approved by the SDSU Institutional Review Board.

Gersberg’s study used three types of cigarette butts: smoked filtered cigarettes without tobacco; smoked filtered cigarettes with tobacco and clean un-smoked filtered cigarettes. In all cases, about half of the fish were killed with a very low concentration of cigarette butts.  The most important finding in this research is that it seems to be the filter, or rather whats in the left-over filter that is most dangerous to our water,Gersberg said.  The results of this study are now being prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

In response to these findings, CBAG held a press conference on May 1, 2009, in the Aztec Center to recommend that cigarette butts be considered and regulated as toxic wastes.

Each year, billions of cigarette butts end up on our beaches, and in our oceans, lakes and rivers,said Tom Novotny, chair of CBAG and professor of public health at SDSU. Based on this new research, we believe that cigarettes should be considered toxic waste and new requirements need to be established for how they are disposed.

Six-year review of cigarette ingestion in children–gastric lavage versus medical observation

Kubo K, Chishiro T.


“During 2006, the Japan Poison Information Center received 2583 inquiries about ingestion of cigarette, which is the most frequent household products ingested by children in Japan. During 2001-2006, two hundred and seventy-six children under seven years of age ingesting cigarettes and its related substances presented to the emergency department in Japan Red Cross Hospital Wakayama Center. The peak age was one year and younger, so-called “ingestion age”. Patients were frequently detected chewing cigarettes and the situation of cases varied individually. It was impossible to estimate the amount of ingested cigarette based on the medical interview. Eighty-three percent of the patients were asymptomatic. Treatment strategy has been changed into a noninvasive one. Gastric lavage has not been performed by emergency physicians since 2001, and by pediatricians since 2006. After the medical observation for two hours following ingestion, all the children except one (who was hospitalized because of his family’s request) were discharged from the emergency department. Independent of doing gastric lavage, all the 276 children had good prognosis. We concluded that ingestion of cigarette in children is generally benign. No gastric lavage, but medical observation for two hours following ingestion in emergency department is our recommendation of management.”

The dangers of nicotine ingestion in dogs

Nicole C. Hackendahl, DVM, and Colin W. Sereda, DVM

A toxicology brief from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on a dog that ingested cigarette butts:

Tobacco Documents Research

Dr. Libby Smith, historian with the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Vivian Wang (Research Assistant), and Kristin Lum (MS1), have been looking into the previously secret tobacco industry documents housed at the UCSF Library to find out what has been done by the industry regarding cigarette butt litter.  Vivian and Kristin have found that the industry has tried unsuccessfully for years to develop marketable biodegradable filters (for example, made from food starch); these efforts have essentially been abandoned by the industry.

Dr. Smith has found that the industry has sought to understand why smokers discard their butts so carelessly.  She suggests that such research has revealed significant levels of discomfort about smoking addiction among smokers such that they seek to rid themselves of the evidence of their addiction (the butt) as soon as possible.  The industry also appears to understand the potential public relations problems it has with environmental concerns regarding cigarette butt waste.  For example, Phillip Morris became one of the major supporters of the “Keep America Beautiful Campaign” (a non-profit organization [KAB]), which encourages individual responsibility for proper butt disposal and other wastes.

However, some analysts point out that Philip Morris’ interest lies primarily in shifting the responsibility for butt waste to the consumer; KAB’s efforts focus on public education and increasing availability of butt receptacles, including hand held (cigarette brand-logo labeled) ashtrays.

In 2007, KAB did receive a $3 million grant from Philip Morris USA for its butt litter campaigns, but this type of largesse serves mainly to enhance Philip Morris’ corporate social image. There is no evidence to show the positive effects of their campaigns.  Those hand held ashtrays end up being dumped somewhere.

Policy Research

CBAG members Tom Novotny, Kristin Lum, Vivian Wang, Libby Smith, and Richard Barnes have just published a paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health entitled Filtered Cigarettes and the Case for an Environmental Policy on Cigarette Waste.  This peer-reviewed article lays out the policy options available to law-makers, advocates, and the general republic to reduce the impact of cigarette butts as toxic hazardous waste.  Additional research is called for in this article, including:

  • The health consequences of banning the sale of filtered cigarettes
  • The behavioral outcomes of banning the sale of filtered cigarettes
  • The efficacy of outdoor smoking bans in reducing cigarette butt waste
  • The economic costs of butt waste cleanup for cities, counties, and states
  • Knowledge, attitudes, and practices of smokers regarding cigarette butt waste disposal
  • The environmental impact of butt waste on marine life, other animals, and humans

Smoke-free Interventions and Research

A number of beaches have gone smoke free.  Click here for a current listing by the American Non-Smokers Rights Foundation.

Analysis of Metals Leached from Smoked Cigarette Litter

Moerman, J. W. & Potts, G. E.

Littered cigarette butts are potential point sources for environmental contamination. In areas with substantial amounts of cigarette litter, serious environmental hazards may exist as captured components are leached from the filters and smoked tobacco. Although the compounds in cigarettes and mainstream smoke have been extensively researched, few studies have attempted to identify and quantify the components leached from cigarette butts or assess the leaching behavior of these components.

The aim of this study is three-fold: 1) to determine the concentration of Al, Ba, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb, Sr, Ti, and Zn leached from cigarette butts in aqueous solution; 2) to assess the relationship between pH of the leaching solution and metal concentration leached; and 3) to assess the relationship between soaking time and metal concentration leached. Smoked cigarette material was added to aqueous solutions of pH 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0 ± 0.1. This procedure was also repeated using unsmoked cigarettes to establish background concentrations. The leachates were analyzed via inductively-coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) 1 day, 7 days, and 34 days after sample addition.

All metals were detected in the leachates derived from smoked material 1 day after sample addition, with the exception of Cd.  The metals were released at varying rates. The concentration of some metals leached increased over the study period, establishing that cigarette litter is a point source for metal contamination for at least a month and possibly longer.  The concentration of other metals remained constant after one day of soaking, possibly indicating a rapid release of those species from the litter. No clear relationship between pH and metal concentration leached emerged from this study, suggesting that differences in pH within the range typical of precipitation have no appreciable impact on metal concentration leached from cigarette material.

Smokers are at risk from radioactive element in tobacco

South China Morning Post — 27 March 2011

There has been public concern that the contamination of the environment by the Fukushima nuclear power plants may extend to eastern and southern China, including Hong Kong.

While the radiation hazard created by the earthquake damage in Japan is an emergency, it is important we take a consistent and comprehensive approach to the prevention of cancer due to radiation.

It has been reported since the 1960s that tobacco smoke contains the radioactive element polonium-210 ({+2}{+1}{+0}Po), and this isotope emits high-energy alpha radiation which causes cancer.

It has been documented that the tobacco industry has unsuccessfully tried to remove {+2}{+1}{+0}Po from tobacco products over more than 40 years.

A detailed review of the scientific literature on {+2}{+1}{+0}Po in tobacco was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2008, titled “Waking a Sleeping Giant: The Tobacco Industry’s Response to the Polonium-210 Issue”.

This review points out that smokers of 1.5 packs of cigarettes a day are exposed to as much radiation as they would receive from 300 chest X-rays a year.

The presence of {+2}{+1}{+0}Po in tobacco plants is the result of farmers enhancing the tobacco flavour by repeatedly applying phosphate-rich fertiliser produced from phosphate rock.

The rock contains natural radium isotopes which decay to {+2}{+1}{+0}Po.

This polonium isotope is known to be completely volatile at the temperature of a burning cigarette.

Alpha particle radiation is emitted from {+2}{+1}{+0}Po and carried by fine particles in tobacco smoke. While there are many cancer causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, the accumulation of this radioactive material in the lungs of smokers is also capable of damaging the tissues in the respiratory system in a way which leads to lung cancer.

It is vitally important that all avoidable exposure to radioactive and other agents responsible for cancer is prevented. We can begin by ensuring that:

  • Smokers are helped to quit by providing effectively funded, staffed and distributed smoking cessation services;
  • Children are not enticed to smoke by tobacco companies; and
  • Everyone is protected from breathing second-hand tobacco smoke.

Lai Hak-kan, honorary assistant professor, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

Big tobacco splutters over plain package law

THE AGE . COM  AUSTRALIA  — 27 March 2011

TOBACCO giant Philip Morris has launched a website calling on smokers to unite and flex their political muscle over tough federal government regulations.

The online campaign comes as the tobacco industry ramps up opposition to a government plan for cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging from next year.

Philip Morris’s new website –

– claims smokers are under constant attack from a ”nanny state” determined to raise taxes and ban smoking in public spaces, such as beaches and city malls.

Advertisement: Story continues below

”If you’re tired of being singled out as a smoker, it’s time to speak up because the more that smokers like you have a say, the more the government will have to listen,” the website, authorised by Philip Morris, says.

The site encourages disaffected smokers to contact their local member of Parliament and provides a forum to share grievances.

The web address is on cards inserted inside tobacco products manufactured by Philip Morris.

The new strategy follows a recent media blitz by the Alliance of Australian Retailers, which is extensively funded by Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco.

The campaign claimed there was no evidence to support the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes, which would harm newsagents, service stations and convenience stores.

Quit Victoria executive director Fiona Sharkie accused the tobacco industry of hiding behind websites and third-party organisations that purport to be independent.