Smoking and Livestock: How to Keep Your Animals Safe

If you’re a smoker and you keep livestock, you may not realize that your habit could be putting them at risk too. Although most of the risks are to you, ensuring you dispose of your butts safely can keep your livestock safe.

Smoking kills an estimated 480,000 Americans every year. The risks of smoking to the smoker are widely-known, and the second-hand harm to those around the smoker is also widely-accepted. However, these aren’t the only ways smoking can do harm, and one way is particularly important for smoking and livestock. Cigarette butts contain toxic chemicals, and if you toss your butts onto the ground where your livestock graze, animals can swallow the butts and get sick as a result. If you do this without properly extinguishing your cigarette, it could even cause a fire.

Cigarette Butt Litter: Why It’s Dangerous to Animals

Cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate, which is a non-biodegradable chemical. It can be broken down into smaller pieces by ultraviolet radiation from the sun, but these smaller pieces still persist in the environment. For the risks associated with smoking and livestock, most of the problems result from full butts being on the ground, but smaller pieces aren’t completely benign for livestock.

The problems with cigarette butt litter are in part due to the actual bulk of the cigarette butt and partially due to the chemicals it contains. Cigarette butts contain nicotine, arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium and several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These can be released into the environment when cigarette butts are disposed of improperly, and are one of the causes of the problems with smoking and livestock.

How Many Cigarettes Are Littered Each Year? 

Although the overall figures for how many cigarette butts are littered each year don’t specifically relate to keepers of livestock, they do provide insight into the severity of the problem. It’s estimated that 4.3 trillion cigarette butts are littered each year around the world. Each year, the Ocean Conservancy organizes an International Coastal Cleanup, and cigarette butts have been the most commonly-found object since the cleanups began. In 2015, there were 2,127,666 cigarette butts found around the world, and around half of these were found in the U.S..

This shows the scale of the potential problems with cigarettes and livestock, especially if the livestock keeper doesn’t dispose of his or her cigarettes safely after smoking.

Cigarette Butt Litter Being Ingested by Animals

The issue with smoking and livestock mainly comes down to the potential for discarded cigarette butts to be eaten by animals. This can pose a risk of choking, but will also expose the animal to the toxic chemicals contained within the cigarette butt. Although the plastic wrappers from packs of cigarettes won’t contain toxic chemicals from the cigarette, it can also pose a choking hazard to livestock.

A study has specifically looked at the issue of cigarette butt consumption in animals, searching for cases of cigarette butts being ingested by pets and wildlife as well as by human infants and children. The study found that cigarette butt ingestion by household pets is quite rare, with 801 reports of cigarette or butt ingestion among dogs and 41 among cats over a five-year period, with much smaller numbers in other animals. There are anecdotal reports of other animals ingesting cigarette butts, but there is little in the way of solid statistical evidence.

However, the problems experienced by the dogs and cats which ingested butts – including vomiting, lethargy, poor coordination and irritation, as well as one death – show that it can have real consequences, and livestock ingesting cigarette butts may cause serious issues. If livestock are grazing and a cigarette butt is in the area, it could easily be ingested.

Fires Caused by Cigarette Butts

An extinguished butt still poses a risk, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the biggest risk is from butts not properly extinguished. According to the National Park Service, 90% of all wildfires are caused by human activity, with still-smoldering cigarette butts being one of the most common causes. If you toss your cigarette butt onto the field where your livestock is grazing, it could easily result in a fire and cause a lot of harm to your livestock.

Smoking and Livestock: How to Solve the Problem

The problems with smoking and livestock can be largely solved by proper disposal of cigarette butts. If you continue to smoke, carrying a pocket ashtray with you will ensure you always have somewhere to dispose of cigarette butts safely. However, the best solution to the problem is to stop smoking. As well as removing the risks to livestock associated with cigarette butt litter, quitting also protects your health and minimizes your risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related health problems.