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Environmental Destruction

Tobacco product waste wreaks havoc on our environment

Published Apr 15, 2022
image of power plant with pipes of cigarettes

Here’s what we all know too well: The manipulative, racist, and greedy tobacco industry is destroying the health of people we love. Their products, when used as intended, kill and cause disease. And the industry’s products not only destroy the health of the people who use them but put us all at risk of toxic exposure to secondhand smoke, which causes thousands of Californian deaths each year.1  

Here’s what the tobacco industry doesn’t want us to know: They are a top global plastic polluter whose production and manufacturing directly contributes to climate change and deforestation.2 3  And the toxic chemicals in their products officially put them in the category of “toxic waste” and make them nearly impossible to dispose of safely.4 5 6 7 8 9

The tobacco industry produces about 6 trillion cigarettes – each year.10 As a result, cigarette butts are the number one most littered item on Earth.11 Number one here in California too – by far. Each filter is made of 15,000 strands of microplastic fibers.12 Microplastics pollute our food,13 water,14 and air.15 And because they are made of plastic, they can take years to decompose,16 which leaves behind mountains of accumulating toxic microplastics to pollute our environment that could make their way inside of us. Butts also are packed with toxic chemicals, like arsenic and lead, that seep into our environment and threaten our oceans and wildlife as they lay discarded on the ground.17 

The tobacco industry takes zero responsibility for the unchecked amounts of toxic waste dumped into our environment. Their own internal documents show the lies and PR spin they’ve used to cover up their pollution with the hope that we put the blame on their customers for littering and allow them to avoid any environmental regulation.18 19 20 21 This lack of accountability is at the expense of $41 million California taxpayer dollars each year.22 

And here’s the kicker: The industry’s new vapes that have caused a youth vaping epidemic – they have all the same environmental problems as cigarette butts – plastic pollution and toxic chemicals leaking into the environment.23 24 Plus, because they’re electronic devices, they leave behind electronic waste,25 which is notoriously difficult and costly to dispose of.26 

Bottom line: No one, and no place, is safe from Big Tobacco.

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lady in a garden wearing a head scarf

Hold the industry accountable

California has already protected people from other harmful products, and it's time to hold the tobacco industry to the same standards.