Law review: Discarded cigarette butts is a serious problem that needs to be addressed |

Law review: Discarded cigarette butts is a serious problem that needs to be addressed

Jim Porter

An estimated 4.5 tons of plastic cigarette butts are littered each year around the world. Many end up in oceans and lakes with deadly consequences.

Even the Philip Morris Institute admits that discarded cigarette butts are “one of the most littered items worldwide.” The Institute goes on: “There may be more cigarette butts in the oceans than fish within the next 10 years.”

Even with those admissions, the industry does little to mitigate the damage they cause.

Cigarette butts have been on my (fill in the appropriate adjective) mind for a long time. I distinctly recall writing letters to cigarette manufacturers when I was in college asking them to mitigate discarded cigarettes by developing a campaign to inform cigarette smokers of the harms of discarding butts, and distribute cigarette butt receptacles around bars and other appropriate locations. I even described a small pocket device to store cigarette butts temporarily in pockets and purses – till they can later be placed in the garbage. I received no response.

Cigarette butts are the number one most littered item in the world. Think about that. They’re made of non-biodegradable plastic and full of hazardous waste. Not good for Planet Earth.

One study shows that 25% of smokers think it is perfectly fine to discard cigarette butts anywhere and everywhere. That figure seems low to me. I’ve seen hundreds of “normal folks” who would never litter, flip a cigarette after a smoke and think nothing of it. That plastic butt will never decompose. How may times have you seen someone crush their cigarette on the sidewalk and leave it there? Would those same smokers throw an empty beer can on the sidewalk? Don’t answer that. Have you seen sunbathers bury their cigarette butts in the sand – out of sight out of mind?

I’ve read that cigarette filters are little more than a marketing tool that were added to cigarettes in the 1950s to make us feel better about smoking without getting cancer. We know how that turned out. Plastic filters do not address the cancer caused by smoking. The industry has tried to develop alternatives to plastic filters but apparently they are not popular with smokers. Tobacco companies claim that they are working on worldwide initiatives to address the pollution they cause. If they were serious they would eliminate the plastic filters or develop disposable filters. It’s that simple. Addicted smokers would adapt.

I’ve read of two cities in California that have banned the sale of all tobacco products within their city limits. San Francisco has a litter abatement fee it charges on packs of cigarettes, but that doesn’t address the mindless discarding of butts. Several countries have banned smoking in public places. New Zealand is banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2009.

Of course, our discussion of the harm caused by cigarette butts ignores the larger elephant in the room – the smoking of cigarettes in the first place. That’s an even more important topic beyond the scope of today’s column.

I would be interested in your thoughts and suggestions.

Jim Porter is an attorney in the process of retiring from Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada. Porter Simon has offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Jim’s practice areas included:  real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters.  He may be reached at    Like Porter Simon on Facebook.    ©2022

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