Big Tobacco’s cigarette butt lies threaten our health – and our planet – with microplastics[4]
Big Tobacco’s cigarette butt lies threaten our health – and our planet – with microplastics[4]
Big Tobacco’s cigarette butt lies threaten our health – and our planet – with microplastics[4]

The Little Big Lie

Big Tobacco’s cigarette butt lies threaten our health – and our planet – with microplastics4

Big Tobacco has known all along that cigarette filters don’t make smoking safer.12 Cigarette butts are made of microplastic fibers and filter practically nothing.3 Big Tobacco’s filters scam puts us all at risk, even if we don’t smoke. Microplastics from cigarette waste are contaminating our soil, food, and water around the world and right here in California.56 Research suggests that when they wind up inside of us, microplastics are linked to intestinal damage, infertility, and DNA mutations.60561

Big Tobacco is making a global plastic crisis worse.8 Let’s hold them accountable for their lies.

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The facts

Big Tobacco’s lie about filters may be the deadliest scam of all.56

Big Tobacco never lets truth get in the way of profit, and their lies about cigarette filters may be the deadliest ever.19 The industry even invested time and money to create filters that change color to trick people into believing they could protect their lungs from dangerous particles.1019 It was a total scam because the so-called filters filter practically nothing.13

Big Tobacco’s deliberate lie has already sickened and killed countless people.1 Now, we’re all at risk because microplastic cigarette butts create a particularly dangerous type of tobacco pollution.1

Microplastic butts put us all at risk.

Butts are made of thousands of tiny plastic fibers that are too small to clean up – and they could be everywhere.4 No surprise since each year Big Tobacco cranks out a staggering 6 trillion cigarettes with so-called “filters.”12 How does plastic in a cigarette butt biodegrade? That’s the problem: It doesn’t.13 It’s also how the tobacco industry became a top contributor to the global plastics crisis.8

Each butt is non-biodegradable because it’s made from 15,000+ microplastic cellulose acetate fibers.413
Cigarette paper is treated with harmful chemicals like potassium citrate (for a faster burn rate) and may contain toxic metals lead, cadmium, and arsenic.1415
Big Tobacco packs 100+ additives into every cigarette, making them more addictive and dangerous.1617
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Floating plastic
Bubble tea
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#1 most discarded item on California beaches and waterways.24

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The tobacco industry continues to produce an estimated 6 trillion filtered cigarettes each year.1221

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Cigarette butts and vapes are toxic waste and are nearly impossible to dispose of safely.2223

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#1 most littered item in the U.S.24

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The tobacco industry’s products and waste disproportionately harm lower-income communities and communities of color, which Big Tobacco has targeted for decades.2526

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On California beaches, there are 9x more cigarette butts than plastic straws.24

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[Cigarette] filters are the deadliest fraud in the history of human civilization. They are put on cigarettes to save on the cost of tobacco and to fool people … In the US, 400,000 people a year die from cigarettes – and those cigarettes almost all have filters.”

Robert Proctor
Professor, The History of Science, Stanford University

Tobacco waste isn’t any different than a lot of issues in our community, where the burden lies on low-income communities, communities of Black and Brown people, who have historically always borne the brunt of toxic exposure.”

Tara Leonard
Tobacco Educator, Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency

The lies

Big Tobacco created filters to trick people into buying a “safer cigarette,” a deception designed to protect profits, not people.1019

If that wasn’t bad enough, the industry made filters from microplastics that contaminate our environment – a fact they have flat-out denied.6763 Here’s the truth about four tobacco industry scams that have put us all in danger.

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Scam #1: Big Tobacco tricks customers with useless filters.1019
In the 1940s and 50s, as the health dangers of cigarettes became clear, Big Tobacco created filters to make customers think they were smoking a “safer cigarette.”12 It was a total scam because the filters filtered practically nothing.3 But Big Tobacco’s deception worked: In 1951, only 1 percent of cigarettes on the market had a filter; by 1958, almost half had a filter; and by 1993, almost all cigarettes were filtered.32
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Scam #2: Big Tobacco’s color-changing filters mislead customers.68

Big Tobacco always knew their filters didn’t make cigarettes safer.12 Then, they discovered filters actually gave cigarettes a milder taste, making them seem “healthier” and allowing people to inhale more deeply.13 The tobacco industry seized the chance to hook new customers and invested more time, money, and resources to double down on their already dangerous “safer cigarette” scam.3334

In the 1950s, a chemist from R.J. Reynolds named Claude Teague developed the “Teague Filter” that turned filters from white to brown.29 The change in color fooled people into believing the butts protected their lungs from the toxic chemicals in cigarettes.2

Truth is, no matter what color they turn, “filters” filter practically nothing3 and have even been linked to a specific type of lung cancer.33536

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Scam #3: Greenwashing: Big Tobacco denied their tobacco pollution harmed the environment.13
People aren’t the only victims of Big Tobacco’s lies. From wildlife to our oceans – our whole planet is at risk.13 Here’s why. Big Tobacco keeps manufacturing costs down by making cigarette filters from microplastic fibers.3 But the synthetic material doesn’t biodegrade, which makes butts dangerous in all kinds of ways.13 Cigarette butts also contain toxic chemicals – just one can kill a small animal.156970 When soaked in a liter of water, a single butt can release enough toxic chemicals to kill fish and threaten aquatic ecosystems.70 And as butts accumulate, the microplastics and toxic chemicals can leach into our oceans, rivers, lakes, and soil.711959 The industry knows full well that their plastic products are destroying the environment – and they lie about it anyway.37
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Scam #4: Big Tobacco dodges blame for toxic cigarette waste.
The tobacco industry wants us to believe that cigarette butts and vapes found on the ground are simply a litter problem.3940 They want us to waste our time installing ashcans in our cities and having beach cleanups.41424344454647 This ruthless industry uses slick PR campaigns to blame people who smoke for its tobacco pollution, dodge accountability, avoid regulations, and spread outright lies.3948
See full documents

A pack of dangerous lies

Big Tobacco pretends to care about protecting people and the planet – when all they really care about is profit.49 Make a difference by voicing your outrage.


The dangers

It’s scary to think that microplastics from cigarette butts could be making you or your loved ones sick. Here are some of the risks we all face because Big Tobacco spins dangerous lies.

DNA mutations60
Compounds commonly found in microplastics may damage human DNA and put people at higher risk for certain types of cancer.64
Studies suggest exposure to microplastics can affect fertility by causing problems like low sperm count and miscarriages.6560
Intestinal damage561
Ingesting microplastics may lead to a build-up of toxins in our gut and make us vulnerable to intestinal inflammation and other disorders.
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Big Tobacco’s lies endanger our planet

Big Tobacco’s deadly products damage the environment, which in turn can impact your health.457106073 How much do you know about tobacco pollution?

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It may come as a surprise that Americans ingest an estimated hundreds of thousands of microplastic particles a year. According to recent studies, microplastics have been found in human lungs, placenta, and blood; they've been linked to fertility issues, intestinal damage, and even mutations in DNA.

Scott Coffin, Ph.D.
Research Scientist, California State Water Resources Control Board
Cartoon image of characters in suits holding a cigarette

Let’s hold them accountable

Express your outrage about the damage caused by the deceitful tobacco industry. You can make a difference by raising your voice.

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