There is an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarettes littered worldwide each year. They are the most littered item in the world. Think about that for a moment.
Litter is unsightly, yes, but it is not the only reason why we need to clean it up. It poses health hazards to us, our children, animals, and the environment.
Children can pick up cigarette butts and ingest them. Kids often mimic their parents, so if they see mom or dad sucking on these lollipop-like sticks every day, they may be more likely to pick one off the ground and try it themselves. Indeed, this does happen across the globe, mostly among children under six years of age, who tend to explore the world orally. Health hazards could be as severe as vomiting, toxicity, and convulsions.
Not only can cigarette litter harm children, but they can harm wildlife and pets. Now, anyone who visited Korea did not come for the wildlife, but it still has its fair share of stray cats and impossibly tiny dogs. Wild animals cannot always effectively discriminate food from toxic cigarettes, so they may ingest them, leading to ailments like vomiting, tremors, lack of coordination, and even death.
Why do most people understand that littering a plastic bottle is not okay, but a cigarette is?
Cigarette butts are tiny and there are already tons on the ground, so it is a common mindset that that's what you do with cigarette butts. Yes, they are small, but they certainly add up. Throwing a lit cigarette into a public trashcan is a fire hazard, so there needs to be a push for more public cigarette receptacles. Especially in Korea, a indoor smoking was recently banned, so people must go outside to smoke. There are rarely public cigarette butt receptacles, so people just flick them on the ground.
Yada yada yada: What can I do?
If you are a smoker, please consider getting a personal ashtray to keep in your pocket. They are available on Gmarket. There are circular metal ones and small pocket ones. A tin case like an Altoids case would also work fine.
However, anybody can help by taking the pledge and picking up trash around your neighborhood for 10 minutes. You will likely see cigarette butts as the most littered object. Smokers are less likely to put their butts on a clean street than one with other cigarette butts, so the streets need to be cleaned up before they wash into the oceans or get eaten by small children or animals.
You can also help by just being aware and educating others about the dangers of cigarette butt litter.
Cigarette butts are not biodegradable and are in fact full of toxins. They should be treated more as toxic waste and should not be on our streets. It's time for change. Cigarette butt litter is NOT okay.
What about you? What do you think about cigarette butt litter? Do you notice it is a problem in your streets? Comment below!
Tobacco and cigarette butt consumption in humans and animals
CDC's article on ingestion of cigarette butts by children
An interesting discussion on Reddit about why smokers litter cigarette butts. Sadly, one commenter noted that Korea was especially littered with cigarette butts.