Toxic substances and plastics in millions of cigarette butts are causing significant damage to the environment as well as human health, the Trimbos anti-addiction institute has said.
Some three quarters of discarded cigarette butts end up in the environment, where they are leaching heavy metals and nicotine, poisoning water and plants, the institute said in a fact sheet published on Tuesday.
Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, mammals and birds and slow down plant growth. Commonly used herbs such as basil and peppermint have also be found to contain nicotine.
Water organism are particularly vulnerable to the toxic substances in cigarette butts which can cause changes in behaviour and DNA, and even death. The Trimbos quotes research which found that a single cigarette butt per litre of water will cause half of the fish to die.
‘And that is just what is happening at the end of the tobacco chain,’ physician and Trimbos researcher Esther Croes said. ‘Growing and processing tobacco also affect biodiversity and promote deforestation.’
It is not enough to tinker with the composition of the cigarettes themselves, Croes said. ‘The best way to avoid pollution form cigarettes is to stop smoking. You’ll be doing the environment a favour as well as yourself and the people around you.’
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