Environmental impact of cigarette butts

Rebekah Greene
Contribution Columnist

Illustration by Annette Allen

Smoking is seen by some as  fun and recreational, but there are still serious dangers that from smoking. These dangers not only inflict harm on those who smoke or those around the smoker but also the Earth. This is not just about the dangers of smoking overall, but the importance of removing the real stressor on the environment, cigarette butts. 

Cigarette smokers produce an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of toxic waste each year. This does not include what is left on the sidewalk, eaten by animals, or thrown in the grass. Some may think that the harm from a cigarette butt is not significant; however, in 2004 Richmond experienced its own hiccup in construction due to cigarette butts. In March 2004, construction was underway for new VCU student housing. During the construction a fire started, caused by a cigarette butt that was tossed in a trash chute filled with sawdust. The fire destroyed 26 buildings and caused $20 million in damage. 

The detrimental cost of smoking does not always affect just the smoker. It’s important to make sure when you are smoking you are aware of your surroundings. Watch out for signs that say do not smoke, and make sure you put it out before throwing it away.

 A little-known problem with cigarette butts is animal consumption. An animal that is often overlooked would be the water flea, a crucial part of the food chain. In a way, water fleas are like bumblebees. We didn’t think it would make a major difference if the bumblebee population decreased but if we lost bumblebees it would have a huge impact on what types of fruits and vegetables we could eat. The same goes for water fleas and seafood. Water fleas are consumed by the smaller fish, which are then eaten by much larger fish that are sold for commercial consumption such as bass. If you have an interest in science you should look more into the water flea. Water fleas are used in testing pollution in standing bodies of water. A major enemy of the water flea is the toxic run off from cigarettes.

Animals have the same ability to become addicted to nicotine as humans. People are habitual smokers. The problem with this is when the smoker throws the cigarette out of the window and into areas where wildlife feed off of vegetation. During October and November it is especially crucial that you take precaution. These months are the deer mating season and deer travel more which leaves them more vulnerable to a greater amount of toxic waste.    

 Random facts can be spouted out for hours but what makes you want to change your life is found within. If you have tried to quit smoking and can’t VCU provides help for you. The Wellness Resource Center hands out free quit kits at that give useful materials to help quit. Even if you are not interested in quitting but you want to make a difference, try switching to vapor cigarettes. Who’s in charge of making Richmond a more sustainable place? All of us. It may not seem too easy but you can make a difference on bettering your city and all it takes is putting down that pack of smokes.

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