If the filter in the cigarette decomposes

Researchers call for a ban on filter cigarettes


Billions of carelessly discarded cigarette filters every day represent an immense environmental problem worldwide. Experts demand that they should be banned as a measure in the fight against plastic waste. In any case, they would not bring any health benefits.

Around ten billion cigarette butts are thrown away worldwide - every day. They can be found on sidewalks, on beaches, in railroad tracks and around bus shelters and are the most common waste product thrown away worldwide. This is not only problematic because of the toxins contained in the stumps, but also because the filters are largely made of difficult-to-break plastic (Cellulose acetate), which biodegrades very slowly. It can take up to ten years for a cigarette filter to completely decompose. Billions of carelessly chipped butts contribute to the growing problem of plastic waste every day.

Scientists from London and San Diego are calling for this in the British Medical Journal (online edition on October 23, 2019)to completely ban the sale of filter cigarettes. They argue that the filters are sham pack anyway: used to save tobacco and make people believe they make smoking less harmful.

In fact, the invention of the filter cigarette in the 1950s was a response by the tobacco industry to studies showing that smoking caused lung cancer. Cigarettes with filters, according to the advertising promise at the time, would absorb part of the tar and thus allow healthier smoking. "We now know that this safety argument was a fairy tale - one of many that the tobacco industry invented to sell cigarettes," write Thomas Novotny from der San Diego State University and his colleagues from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in her editorial about it. The filters even lead to smokers pulling harder on a cigarette, so that carcinogens are inhaled deeper into the lung tissue.

According to a study by Justus Liebig University Gie├čen from 2016, 4.5 trillion of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes smoked annually are improperly disposed of. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that up to two thirds of all cigarette butts land on the floor. With 15 billion glow stalks sold, that's 10 billion stubs - every day.

While fast food chains are now increasingly being held responsible for producing less plastic waste, the tobacco lobby has managed to avoid public outrage, so Novotny and colleagues. In her opinion, it must now be a matter of bringing the discussion about the dangers of smoking together with that of the global destruction of the environment.

Here the authors cite the ban on single-use plastic that the EU adopted from 2021 on certain plastic items, including plastic cutlery, straws and cotton swabs. "The exclusion of filters from the plastics directive seems to be a missed opportunity," criticize the scientists. Instead, the directive only states in general terms that industry should help cover the costs of waste management and disposal, data collection and awareness-raising measures.

The health researchers conclude their contribution by saying that the tobacco epidemic continues to be a leading cause of death and disease worldwide. "And like the threat from global warming, it will remain so until the nations implement innovative interventions." According to the authors' plea, courageous measures are necessary here, such as a rigorous ban on filter cigarettes.


"Many people have doubted that smoke-free bars, pubs or airplanes would one day be possible," they emphasize. The drastic warnings prescribed today on cigarette packets were once just as unthinkable. Novotny and colleagues warn: "If we fail to reduce the trillion cigarette butts that contribute to global waste pollution every year, we will undermine our efforts to contain global plastic waste and miss the opportunity to end the global tobacco epidemic."

Anyone who thinks that e-cigarettes could be a more environmentally friendly alternative is wrong: They not only produce electronic waste, but also plastic waste thanks to the cartridges and liquid bottles required. The WHO writes: "Disposable cartridges made of plastic could become the cigarette butts of the future." More detailed studies on disposal and additional amounts of waste generated by e-cigarettes are still pending.

Source: dpa from 27.10.19