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PARIS, FRANCE – May 31, 2023 – On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, health and environmental advocates gathered at the UN Plastic Treaty Conference in Paris to call for the elimination of cigarette filters. They drew attention to the fact that cigarette butts are some of the most prevalent forms of plastic pollution on the planet and harm marine ecosystems.
They reminded delegates to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to align with human rights and health treaties, particularly the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and make the tobacco industry pay for its pollution and legacy waste. The health treaty seeks to reduce the supply and demand for tobacco and protect health policies by keeping the tobacco industry out of policy meetings.
According to a WHO report, every year, about 4.5 trillion discarded filters (butts) from the almost six trillion cigarettes consumed globally find their way into the environment, becoming the top waste item collected from coastlines and urban settings. Cigarette filters are small enough to be ingested by marine animals, and when these plastic filters break down, they release thousands of microplastic particles.
Microplastics have been detected in commercial seafood, other food items, drinking water, and human tissue; this contamination is a threat to food safety and security. Research shows that cigarette butts are a source of microplastic contamination that creates chemical pollution due to the toxic chemicals found in tobacco products that leach into the environment; cigarette butt leachates are found to harm various forms of aquatic organisms, including key food sources for fish and shellfish.
Experts agree that banning cigarette filters is the best solution to this plastic and toxic waste problem. Cleanups, anti-littering legislation, and redesigning filters for recyclability or biodegradability have not worked and are not viable solutions. Government committees from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark have recently called for a ban on filters and recommended the same for the rest of the European Union Member States.
The tobacco industry has known the filter’s lack of health benefits for at least fifty years. The filter leads the smoker to take deeper and more prolonged puffs, increasing the addictiveness and toxicity of tobacco. Most smokers have a biased perception of the risks to their health due to the filter and are unaware that smoking filtered cigarettes is linked to a more aggressive form of lung cancer (adenocarcinoma).
As negotiations on the plastics treaty continue, delegates must remember that the tobacco industry is not a stakeholder but a polluter that must be held liable for the harms they cause to human health and the environment, per the WHO FCTC.
Over 100 non-governmental health organizations from The Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance (STPA) and non-governmental environmental organizations such as Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Ecowaste Coalition, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP), Surfrider Foundation, Ban Toxics (Philippines), Boomerang Alliance, Our Sea of East Asia Network (OSEAN), Comparatively for Tanzania Elites Community Organizers (CTECO), Development Indian Ocean Network, Earthday.org (Earth Day Network), Green Africa Youth Organization, Health Care Without Harm, Hebdo Ecolo, Hej! Support, La Voix des affamés de la RDC, Let’s Do It World, MarViva, No Plastic In My Sea, Objectif Zéro Plastique, Ocean Purpose Project, Pesticide Action Network, Reacción Climática, Save the Climate, Seed Africa, Ocean Care, The Center of Islamic Studies-PPI Unas, The World is Home, Upholding Life And Nature (ULAN), Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance, Objectif Zéro Plastique, and Fundación OneSeadacion joined the statement.
ACTION ON SMOKING AND HEALTH
ASH is a convenor of the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance, a global coalition of 101 public health organizations, who recognize the crucial intersection of tobacco control and environmental health.
Founded in 1967, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is America’s oldest anti-tobacco organization, dedicated to a world with ZERO tobacco deaths. Because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH supports bold solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. ash.org