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Cigarette butt litter a social and environmental problem

More than 44 percent of polled smokers freely admitted to having discarded their butts on the ground at least once, despite knowing that doing so was a type of littering.

Littered cigarette butts are more than just an eye sore. According to environmental cleanup reports, cigarette butts are the number one littered item on U.S. roadways and the number one item found on beaches and waterways worldwide. A new survey conducted by Legacy shows that while more than 88 percent of Americans surveyed think that cigarette butts are an environmental concern, more than 44 percent of those polled who had ever smoked admit to having dropped a cigarette on the ground, and nearly 32 percent have dropped a cigarette out of a car window.

Toxic tobacco trash includes a plastic filter which biodegrades only under extreme conditions, putting wildlife in danger and wreaking costly havoc on U.S. waterways, parks, beaches and roadways. Additionally, cigarette butts contain carcinogens that can leach into soil, and chemicals that are poisonous to wildlife which threaten to contaminate water sources.

Legacy has partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to raise awareness and mobilize action surrounding this toxic problem with a new set of television and radio public service announcements (PSAs) available in English and Spanish, urging the public to ‘Rethink Butts’ and take a new perspective on this environmental issue.

Americans surveyed reported seeing this form of litter on sidewalks (80.1 percent), in parks (32.1 percent), on playgrounds (16.6 percent) and on beaches (15.7 percent). While more than 93 percent of those surveyed agree that dropping a cigarette butt on the ground is a form of littering, it is alarming that so many smokers still litter them.

“Social norms surrounding litter have shifted dramatically over the last several decades,” said Dr. Cheryl Healton, DrPH, president and CEO of Legacy, a public health non-profit based in Washington, D.C. “But despite the fact that so many Americans are hyper-concerned about the environment and are eager to recycle household items and pick up litter, there remains a total disconnect when it comes to flicking cigarette butts onto our streets and into our waterways. Through our new partnership with Leave No Trace we hope to not only begin to change the behavior of littering cigarette butts, but also highlight the fact that billions of cigarettes butts annually amount to an enormous environmental and public health threat that our communities are left to pay for.”

In an increasingly health and environmentally conscious world, cigarette butts remain one of the only socially acceptable forms of littering left. A new set of bilingual PSAs is available online for download and distribution at RethinkButts.org.