Among other initiatives and interventions that address the environmental and human health impacts of cigarette butt and other tobacco product waste (TPW), CBPP supports and advocates the following policy and regulatory interventions as part of our organizational outreach:
1. Advocate for extended producer responsibility and product stewardship: State and local laws, and eventually federal laws mandating policies and programs are needed, to place responsibility on the tobacco industry for take-back and final disposal of its toxic products. The industry needs to be held accountable for practices that are extremely harmful to both the environment and human health, with such laws enacted to achieve that objective, with a view to reducing, mitigating and preventing those and other adverse impacts of TPW.
2. Ban disposable filters: Some products known to be hazardous or prone to improper disposalhave simply been banned entirely from sales and distribution (e.g., pop-tops on aluminum cans). In theory, states within the U.S. could simply ban the sale of filtered cigarettes, given that they are not biodegradable, creating special environmental problems given their toxicity and persistence. Although a step in the right direction, such actions would nonetheless still leave in place cigarettes that rely, at one or more life cycle stages, on black-listed carcinogenic, mutagenic, as well as persistent, bioaccumulative and other toxic chemicals.
3. Ban smoking in designated areas/places: Laws that ban smoking vary widely in the U.S, i.e., not regulating any smoking, banning it in certain areas, or banning it nearly everywhere. As of January, 2013, according to American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, over 80% of the U.S. population lives under a ban on smoking in “workplaces, and/or restaurants, and/or bars by either a state, commonwealth, or local law,” though only 48.7% live under a ban covering all workplaces and restaurants and bars. In addition, as of April 5, 2013, at least 1,159 college or university campuses in the U.S. have adopted 100% smoke free campus policies that eliminate smoking in indoor and outdoor areas across the entire campus, including residences. The numbers for state, local, campus, private sector and other bans are increasing rapidly as a result of the growing social norm supporting smoke-free environments that benefit human health and the environment, providing excellent opportunities for diverse coalitions to jointly promote those types of interventions.
4. Rethink cigarette butt deposit/Return: Dating back to the 1970s, Oregon and others states introduced “bottle bills” as a way to reduce the hazards, clean-up costs, and waste of discarded glass containers (mostly from beverages). Customers pay a deposit when they purchase specified items which will be returned. Cigarettes could be sold with a “butt deposit” to be refunded when the butts are returned to the vender. The problem, though, is figuring out what to do with the butts, once collected, given their toxicity, persistence and non-biodegradability. Terracycle, a U.S. non-profit, is being funded by the tobacco industry to try to recycle butts into benches or other items, while also making the tobacco industry look like it really cares about the environment. In reality, that initiative addresses a miniscule piece of the butt litter, toxic waste problem, while safe destruction as part of a holistic, comprehensive EPR take back and disposal regime makes far more sense.
5. Litigation: To date, most litigation against the tobacco industry has focused on health costs. Nonetheless, the industry could be held responsible for the environmental impacts associated with sales of their product. Litigation has been pursued against manufacturers of products that damage the environment, and are typically based on negligence and nuisance-related legal theories involving proof of the defendant’s wrongful conduct, failure to take reasonable steps to prevent harm; or for protecting someone’s right to use and enjoyment of real property. With the tobacco industry, as hazardous waste generators, they could be sued for failure to ensure safe clean-up or disposal of their product.
6. Cleanup assessment/abatement fees: TPW cleanup and disposal costs are substantial at local and municipal levels. As done in San Francisco in 2009-10, local authorities can carry out assessments, as part of a framework (different from waste taxes) and methodology for calculating TPW cleanup and abatement costs. The San Francisco model is instructive, having resulted in a 20 cent per pack increase in the cost of cigarettes sold to cover cleanup costs annually ($5.6 million), plus administrative expenses and a public anti-littering campaign ($1.4 million).
7. Proper labeling: Some products carry warnings not to litter the product or packages, but it’s never been used as a means of warning smokers about the non-biodegradability of filters (or of package litter). Under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act , the FDA could require a label of sufficient size that simply states: Cigarette filters are non-biodegradable toxic waste. Safe disposal should be required in accordance with state law.” Linked state law rules on the package could also describe potential human toxicity, methods for safe handling, fines, etc.
8. Waste fees: Concern about toxic waste resulting from technology products has given rise to laws implementing a consumer funded Advanced Recycling Fee (ARF). Assessed at the point of purchase, such fees can help cover the costs of recycling the item and properly disposing of non-recyclable material. This system functions with manufacturers’ support, with core principles calling for shared responsibility. Adding a waste tax to cigarettes is a possibility; the fee could potentially contribute to butt collection and transfer centers, as well as above ground, monitorable, hazardous waste storage sites. It also increases the costs of cigarettes, thereby reducing consumption.
9. Fines: Fines are levied by local communities for violations of smoking bans on beaches and in enclosed areas. Fines for littering may be as high as $1000 in some states if observed and cited by authorities. Fines could also be levied against cigarette manufacturers based on the amount of cigarette waste found either as litter or as improperly disposed waste, with the fine at least partially compensating for clean-up costs and collecting and disposing of cigarette waste. Such fines would certainly be passed on to consumers, thus increasing the costs of smoking and reducing consumption.
10. An endgame for tobacco: There is nascent but growing support for achieving the elimination of smoking within the next two decades. Achieving this endgame envisions hard won victories, such as: fundamental shifts in social norms, targets at or close to zero prevalence of tobacco use, ending of commercial sales, its use fully denormalized in society, and virtually no children exposed to tobacco use. The various strategies share two core beliefs: the status quo is unacceptable; and reducing smoking substantially will require new, bold and fundamentally different strategies from the tried-and-true. In May 2013, a heightened level of public engagement was broached with the dedication of an entire Tobacco Control Journal special supplement to the “endgame”, broadening horizons for awareness raising, making the topic more accessible, understandable, and deserving of active support and reinforcement.