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World Environment Day: Banning Cigarette Filters to Save Lives and the Planet

World Environment Day 2024

June 5th is World Environment Day. One might well ask – “Why is ASH marking this day? It’s an anti-tobacco group?” The number one source of global pollution – and the number one source of plastic pollution – is cigarette filters. Getting rid of them would go a long way to solving some of our most difficult environmental challenges. And – this is the important bit for ASH – banning filters would lead millions of people who smoke to quit, and drastically reduce the tobacco industry’s ability to addict “replacements” for the eight million customers who die each year from using their products.

Filters appeared in the 1950s as people began to realize the deadliness of smoking cigarettes. “Don’t worry, and certainly don’t quit,” said Big Tobacco, “these will filter out all the bad stuff.” Except they don’t, and the industry knew they don’t. Despite its name, cigarette filters do nothing to reduce the harms caused by smoking. In fact, there is evidence that filters cause cigarette users to inhale more deeply into the lungs, causing further damage to health. What filters do is create a false sense of safety and keep people smoking.

Filters also make it much easier for children to take up smoking by cooling the smoke and preventing bits of tobacco from being inhaled. It’s hard to imagine a 12 year-old taking a puff of a filterless cigarette and thinking “Ya, more of this please.”

Banning cigarette filters would be one of the biggest blows ever dealt to the tobacco industry. It would also remove a huge source of toxic plastic pollution, giving the world a little breathing space (pun intended) to address global environmental challenges.