How indoor smoking ban became bad for the environment

In many states smoking has been banned in public indoor areas. For nonsmokers it helped clear the air and make for a safer indoor environment. For obvious reasons, many smokers were unhappy with the decision but begrudgingly began stepping outdoors for their daily smokes.

The trouble with smoking outdoors is that butts inevitably end up being tossed to the ground and stamped out, even where cigarette butt receptacles or sand urns are present. These butts become litter and end up traveling miles to where you'd rather not find them, such as on the beach or in area ponds and rivers.

According to environmentalists and information gleaned from the organization Clean Ocean Action, New Jersey beachgoers may find more cigarette butts on the stretches of beaches they enjoy for summer recreation. Clean Ocean Action reports that their volunteer beach cleanup personnel collected 22,838 cigarette butts from New Jersey's beaches in April 2006 -- about 9,000 more than the previous year. This was the same year New Jersey inacted their indoor smoking ban. With the law in effect for a full year in 2007, the total escalated to 38,019 butts. Predictions are that this season there will be even more butts sharing room with beach blankets and vollyball nets.

Many people simply do not make the correlation that dropping a cigarette on the ground in an urban area could reasonably enable that discarded butt to travel to suburban or rural areas through the wind or storm drains.

The trouble doesn't just lie on American shores. Studies conducted in Australia show a similar correlation between indoor smoking bans and the increasing number of cigarette butts turning up on beaches and in other areas.

Cigarette butts are not merely unsightly litter. A common misconception is that the filters are made from cotton and will simply break down in the environment. Filters are actually made from cellulose acetate, a plastic-like substance. Over time, the filters break into smaller and smaller pieces, but are not biodegradable. The butts can be swallowed by fish that mistake them for food. Additionally, environmentalists have determined that chemicals leached by the remnant tobacco and ashes could be toxic to tiny organisms, including the water flea, a tiny crustacean that serves as an important food source for small fish. Wildlife apart from ocean life may also be affected by inadvertently consuming discarded cigarette materials. Cigarette butts may seem small, but with several trillion butts littered every year, the toxic chemicals can add up.

It's important to realize that cigarettes are litter much like aluminum cans or paper. Discarding them in proper receptacles can cut down on the amount of waste that affects our public spaces and make for a more aesthetically pleasing and healthier recreational opportunity.

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