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What is a cigarette butt?

A cigarette butt is a combination of a plastic filter and the remnants of a smoked cigarette.

The filter is non-biodegradable, and the tobacco remnant is toxic but biodegrades into the environment because it is an organic substance


Cigarette butts are the number one littered item in the world, with several years as the number one single item picked up on beach cleanup days in the United States and globally

What's a cigarette filter and what's it for?

Cellulose acetate–a type of plastic; some have added charcoal

Filters out some larger residues, tars, particulates

Delivers less irritating smoke (through ventilation, etc)

They make it easier to smoke and to initiate smoking

They reassure smokers somehow that filtered cigarettes may be ‘safer’ for them than unfiltered cigarettes

They are NOT a health device; the reduction in lung cancer deaths seen recently is not due to modifications in the cigarette but to widespread smoking cessation

They may increase the number of cigarettes smoked per day because of less irritating smoke

They allow more deeply inhaled smoke, with a possible increase in risk for adenocarcinoma of lung

Cigarette filters are by their nature ‘defective.’  Researchers have found ‘fallout’ of filters’ plastic particles lodged in the small airways of smokers.  

How many butts get tossed every year?

376 billion cigarettes were consumed in the U.S., 98% are filtered


5.5 trillion cigarettes are consumed globally every year

Of these, 4.95 trillion are filters, deposited somewhere in the environment worldwide


Weight and volume of discarded filters:

20 filters (one pack)= 0.12 oz (10 ml)

10,000 filters (one year’s consumption at 20 cigs/day for one smoker)= 3.75 lbs (5 liters)

1,000,000 filters=375 lbs (500 liters)

Therefore, 141 million lbs of filters (188 million liters) were dumped into the US environment in 2005

Have humans or animals been poisoned by butts?

There are anecdotal reports of butt consumption by dogs, fish, turtles, birds, and other marine life.  More research is needed to assess the impact of butt consumption among wild animals.


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a study of butt consumption by children in Rhode Island in 1996.  One-third of the 146 children who consumed cigarette butts had signs and symptoms of nicotine poisoning. 


Theoretically, 200 cigarette butts would kill an adult human being if all were consumed.

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