Smoking might be dangerous to the smoker, but much fewer people understand the risks it poses to the great outdoors. From the unsightly litter from cigarette butts to the toxic chemicals they leach out into the environment right through to how they make you less able to enjoy it: kicking smoking is the best way to protect our planet.
Smoking pollutes the environment just like it pollutes your body. While most people know the various risks of smoking to the smoker, the myriad ways in which it impacts the environment aren’t as widely-known. Cigarette butts are designed to reduce the amount of tar that makes its way into the smoker’s lungs, but all of those trapped chemicals can be released into the environment if butts are carelessly tossed on the ground. They’re unsightly, but the toxicity of cigarette butts to animals and the choking hazard they pose makes smoking and the outdoors a bad combination.
Cigarette Butt Litter: Unsightly and Ubiquitous
In 2015, the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup picked up over 2.1 million cigarette butts from coastal areas around the world, with about half being collected in the U.S.. The scale of the problem with cigarette butt litter can scarcely be exaggerated, with an estimated 1.7 billion pounds of cigarette butts ending up as litter around the world each year.
The most obvious impact of this is that it spoils the natural beauty we’re fighting to preserve. From the easily-noticeable tossed butts on nature trails and parks to the less noticeable trash settling to the bottom of the ocean and getting buried under the sand at beaches, the immediate effect of cigarette butt litter is a less picturesque environment. But if that was the only risk, then smoking and the outdoors wouldn’t be such a big issue. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning.
Cigarette Butts are Toxic to Marine Life
There are tons of harmful chemicals in a cigarette butt. As well as the non biodegradable cellulose acetate used in cigarette butts, the various chemicals that are absorbed into the filter during smoking can be harmful to marine animals in particular.
A study looking at the toxicity of cigarette butts to topsmelt and fathead minnow found that cigarette butts were fatally toxic to both fish species at concentrations from two butts per liter to four butts per liter. The researchers found that filters from smoked cigarettes, with no tobacco remaining, are more toxic to the fish than unsmoked filters with no tobacco. However, the most likely thing to be littered is a smoked cigarette butt with a small amount of tobacco still present. Unfortunately, this was shown to be the most toxic to fish in the experiment.
The simple explanation for this is that the harmful chemicals captured by the cigarette butt can be released into the water when the butts are tossed away. While one or two butts wouldn’t cause a big issue, with so many butts discarded each year, the risk is much bigger. This is probably the biggest problem when it comes to smoking and the outdoors.
Do Cigarette Butts Pose Risks to Animals on Land?
Although the data on this is scarce, there is also the possibility that cigarette butt litter is dangerous to land animals too. If discarded cigarette butts are swallowed, there is a risk of choking in addition to the dangers of exposure to harmful chemicals. Cigarette butts can also leach harmful chemicals into the soil, which could impact the growth of plants and even have knock-on effects for the animals that eat those plants.
Smoking and the Outdoors: Risks for Hikers and Other Lovers of the Outdoors
Finally, it should almost go without saying that smoking poses a big and direct risk to people who enjoy the outdoors too. For example, if you’re a hiker, physical fitness is essential to your hobby. As well as increasing your risk of lung cancer, heart disease and a wide range of other conditions, the carbon monoxide in smoke displaces the oxygen being carried by your red blood cells, starving your muscles of an important part of their energy supply. This means that hikers who smoke will get tired a lot quicker than friends who don’t smoke. Add in the risks of lung diseases like emphysema and you can see why quitting smoking is the best idea for anybody who loves the outdoors.
Smoking and the Outdoors: Quitting to Protect the Environment (and Yourself)
Whether you’re worried about your waterways, the pristine, natural appearance of parks and nature trails, marine animals or just your lungs, it’s clear that quitting smoking and encouraging others to do so too is the only way to protect what matters to you.
If you’re hoping to quit smoking, the best course of action is to choose a quit-date, find a type of support that appeals to you – such as medications like Chantix, patches or gums, and even e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco – and stick at it. You might not succeed right away, but don’t be disheartened. Quitting smoking is really hard, and even cutting down is a step in the right direction. But if you stick with it, you’ll be smoke-free in no time.