Dec 6 - 12, 2010

Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and 400 other toxins. These include nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT.

Nicotine is highly addictive. Smoke containing nicotine is inhaled into the lungs, and the nicotine reaches your brain in just six seconds.

While not as serious as heroin addiction, addiction to nicotine also poses very serious health risks in the long run.

Nicotine in small doses acts as a stimulant to the brain. In large doses, it is a depressant, inhibiting the flow of signals between nerve cells. In even larger doses, it's a lethal poison, affecting the heart, blood vessels, and hormones. Nicotine in the bloodstream acts to make the smoker feel calm.

As a cigarette is smoked, the amount of tar inhaled into the lungs increases, and the last puff contains more than twice as much tar as the first puff. Carbon monoxide makes it harder for red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Tar is a mixture of substances that together form a sticky mass in the lungs.

Most of the chemicals inhaled in cigarette smoke stay in the lungs. The more you inhale, the better it feels—and the greater the damage to your lungs.

Most cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. The white fibers you see in a cigarette filter are NOT cotton, but a plastic that can persist in the environment as long as other forms of plastic.

Cigarette butts are the most common type of litter on earth. Collected they weigh in the millions of pounds. The toxic chemicals absorbed by cigarettes' cellulose acetate filters and found in butts' remnant tobacco, are quickly leached from the butts by water.

The evidence indicates that the toxic chemicals leached from discarded cigarette butts present a biohazard to the water flea at concentrations of more than 0.125 butts per liter, or about one butt per two gallons of water.

Various sources have stated that cigarette filters take 18 months to 10 years to degrade. It is safe to say that the cellulose acetate fibers in cigarette filters, like other plastics, are with us for some time after they are discarded. Since environments differ-some places are wetter, dryer, sunnier, colder, hotter, windy, etc.—so too will the degrading time differ. A cigarette butt that is littered in the hotter area with maximum humidity will degrade differently than one that is littered in Northern Punjab which is non-humid but hot.

But even if cigarette filters were quick to degrade, we would still have fires caused by lit cigarette butts, and the toxins found in cigarette butts would still be harmful. That is why, it believes the best way to decrease cigarette butt litter is to educate smokers, rather than try to make filters biodegradable.

When we say, "biodegrade," we are saying that something living, for example, bacteria, is responsible for "degrading" an item. There are many methods, however, that lead to something being "degraded." Sunlight, for example, can degrade some things. For example, sunlight can make some plastics brittle. Studies done on plastics in the oceans show that most of the plastics are broken down by the UV (ultra violet) waves of sunlight. Wind and water can cause erosion, which is a form of degradation. Freezing and thawing can also physically change and breakdown items.

What are cigarettes and filters made of?

Cigarettes are made from four components, each of which is described below.

1. Filters
2. Tobacco
3. Additives
4. Cigarette wrapper

Cigarettes today are typically 85 or 100 mm long, and have diameters of about 8 mm. Their filters are usually 20 to 30 mm long, so a typical cigarette has 55 to 80 mm of tobacco.


Cigarette filters are specifically designed to absorb vapors and to accumulate particulate smoke components. Filters also prevent tobacco from entering a smoker's mouth and provide a mouthpiece that will not collapse as the cigarette is smoked. Filters generally have the following components:


95 percent of cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate (a plastic), and the balance are made from papers and rayon. The cellulose acetate tow fibers are thinner than sewing thread, white, and packed tightly together to create a filter; they can look like cotton. Other materials have been tried and rejected in favor of the taste that acetate produces. Filters vary in filtration efficiency, depending on whether the cigarette is to be "light" or regular.

Viewing the white face of the cigarette filter with the naked eye and compression of the filter column with the fingers would suggest that the filter is made of a sponge-like material. However, opening the cigarette filter, by cutting it lengthwise with a razor, reveals that it consists of a fibrous mass. Spreading apart the matrix reveals some of the more than 12 000 white fibers.

Microscopically, these fibers are Y shaped and contain the titanium dioxide. The fibers are made of cellulose acetate, a synthetic plastic-like substance used commonly for photographic films.


The paper used to wrap the acetate cellulose plug is impervious to air for regular cigarettes, or is ventilated and very porous in "light" cigarettes, allowing more air to enter the smoke mix. A polyvinyl acetate emulsion is used as the glue to attach the plug to the wrapper, and to seam the wrapper.


The tipping paper, often printed to look like cork, covers the filter plug and attaches the filter to the column of tobacco. Tipping paper is formulated to not adhere to the lips of smokers.

Depending on the type of tobacco and its growing location, the leaves of the tobacco plant can have different tastes, burning properties, aromas, color, and nicotine content. Tobacco leaves contain several alkaloids, including the highly toxic alkaloid nicotine. Nicotine is a powerful insecticide and among the deadliest of all plant products in its pure form.

Cigarette butts take up a large volume of space. If one person smokes a pack and a half a day, he will consume more than 10,000 cigarettes in a year. This number of cigarette butts (filters only—not including remnant tobacco) will fill a volume of five liters. Worldwide annual consumption of cigarettes creates enough cigarette butt waste to fill more than 2,800,000,000 liters.

Cigarette butts are the most common debris item collected during the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, numbering:

1998 - 1,616,841

1999 - 1,052,373

2000 - 1,369,726

2001 - 1,527,837 (22.31 percent of all the debris collected during the ICC)

2002 - 1,640,614 (cigarettes and other smoking-related products accounted for 30 percent of the debris)

2003 - 1,426,613 (cigarette filters, cigar tips, and tobacco packaging accounted for 38 percent of US debris, and 34 percent of worldwide debris)

2004 - 1,268,177 (cigarette filters, cigar tips, and tobacco packaging accounted for 29.6 percent of US debris, and 21.2 percent of worldwide debris)

2005 - 1,638,066 (cigarette filters, cigar tips, and tobacco packaging accounted for 30.4 percent of worldwide debris)

2006 - 1,892,060 (cigarette filters, cigar tips, and tobacco packaging accounted for 33.4 percent of worldwide debris)

2007 - 1,971,551 (cigarette filters, cigar tips, and tobacco packaging accounted for 38 percent of worldwide debris)


Cigarette butts are not just ugly—they also present a threat to wildlife. Plastic pieces have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures that mistake them for food. So ingestion of plastic cigarette filters is a threat to wildlife.


The scientists showed that extracts of cigarette butts in water, applied to a type of steel (N80) widely used in the oil industry, protected the steel from rusting even under the harsh conditions, preventing costly damage and interruptions in oil production. They identified nine chemicals in the extracts, including nicotine, which appear to be responsible for this anti-corrosion effect.

According to the journal, cigarette butts, one of the most ubiquitous forms of garbage in the world, need to be recycled because their toxicity can kill saltwater and freshwater fish. In this study, the cigarette butts are applied as corrosion inhibitors for N80 steel at 90 ∞C in hydrochloric acid. Weight loss and electrochemical techniques are used to evaluate the corrosion inhibitive effect of cigarette butt water extracts.

While Chinese scientists are to be commended for attempting to find a solution for the 4.5 trillion cigarette butts discarded every year, the consequences to the environment and in particular marine life, cannot be ignored. The effects of a chemical compound extraction applied to oceanic pipes must consider the known toxic effects on fish species.

The world's marine life is already under pressure with toxic levels of mercury being found in seafood. The ocean, being a complex and interwoven ecosystem, needs just one simple modification to impact countless numbers of species.

Chemical extracts from cigarette butts - so toxic they kill fish - can be used to protect steel pipes from rusting.


In practice, commercial cigarettes and cigarette tobaccos rarely contain pure tobacco.

Some cigarettes have cloves blended with the tobacco, to enhance the smoker's pleasure by numbing the mouth and lungs and providing a mild euphoric effect. Lower quality clove cigarettes simply have a clove essence added to the tobacco. In addition to additives, cigarette tobaccos, especially lower quality blends, are often highly physically processed.


* Cigarette filters are 100 percent non-biodegradable.

* Toxic chemicals can seep out and pollute everything it surrounds.

* It can take a single cigarette more than 15 years to disintegrate naturally.

* The air pollution emitted by cigarettes is 10 times greater than diesel car exhaust.

* 4000 chemical compounds are created by burning a single cigarette, many of which are toxic.



A flammable, colorless liquid used as a solvent. It's one of the active ingredients in nail polish remover. The tobacco industry refuses to say how acetone gets into cigarettes.


A colorless, pungent gas. The tobacco industry says that it adds flavor, but scientists have discovered that ammonia helps you absorb more nicotine - keeping you hooked on smoking.


A silvery-white very poisonous chemical element. This deadly poison is used to make insecticides, and it is also used to kill gophers and rats.


A flammable liquid obtained from coal tar and used as a solvent. This cancer-causing chemical is used to make everything from pesticides to detergent to gasoline.


A yellow crystalline carcinogenic hydrocarbon found in coal tar and cigarette smoke. It's one of the most potent cancer-causing chemicals in the world.


A hydrocarbon used as a fuel. Highly flammable butane is one of the key ingredients in gasoline.


A metallic chemical element used in alloys. This toxic metal causes damage to the liver, kidneys, and the brain; and stays in your body for years.


A colorless pungent gas used in solution as a disinfectant and preservative. It causes cancer; damages your lungs, skin and digestive system. Embalmers use it to preserve dead bodies.


A heavy bluish-gray metallic chemical element. This toxic heavy metal causes lead poisoning, which stunts your growth, and damages your brain. It can easily kill you.


A sweet hygroscopic viscous liquid used as antifreeze and as a solvent in brake fluid. The tobacco industry claims they add it to keep cheap "reconstituted tobacco" from drying out, but scientists say it aids in the delivery of nicotine (tobaccos active drug) to the brain.


A colorless volatile oil. Turpentine is very toxic and is commonly used as a paint thinner.