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Plastic pollution from cigarettes costs taxpayers over $26 billion every year

The environmental and economic impacts of tobacco and cigarette product plastic waste have been largely overlooked in the global fight against pollution. A recent study has shed light on this critical issue, revealing staggering costs associated with the disposal and environmental damage caused by plastics in cigarette butts and packaging.

Scale of the cigarette plastic problem

The study reveals that the costs of environmental pollution caused by plastics in cigarette butts and packaging amount to an estimated $26 billion every year. That amounts to $186 billion every 10 years, adjusted for inflation.

This astronomical figure includes $5 billion in waste management and $20.7 billion in marine ecosystem damage worldwide. This significant figure underscores the need for urgent action to address this form of pollution.

These figures are alarming for many reasons, but especially when considering that they do not fully account for the toxic metals and chemicals in cigarette butts that accumulate over time.

Despite the global initiatives to curb or ban single-use plastics, tobacco plastics have been largely ignored. This is concerning given that cigarette filters, which are made of single-use plastic, are the most common item of rubbish collected globally. The research draws attention to the urgent need to incorporate tobacco plastic into these global environmental policies.

How the study was conducted

To quantify the global economic toll of tobacco products’ toxic waste, the research team utilized public data sources from organizations like the World Bank, OECD, The Tobacco Atlas, and the World Wildlife Fund.

The study included the average weight of plastic filters and packaging in its calculations, leading to an estimation of the annual and 10-year projections of the environmental and economic costs.

The research points out that countries with the highest number of cigarette butts are mostly low and middle-income countries. These are the same countries where the ‘leakage’ rate for plastics into the environment is likely higher, exacerbating the problem.

The researcher acknowledges that the figures are likely conservative estimates. They do not fully consider the long-term environmental impacts of the toxic chemicals leached from cigarette butts, which may be more harmful than general plastic waste.

Tobacco plastic responsibility

The study suggests that these estimates could be used as fiscal evidence to mitigate tobacco plastic waste pollution. In addition, the research can directly assign industry responsibility for these losses, including that of the tobacco industry.

Countries like France, the UK, the European Union, and the USA are considering policies to shift the responsibility for the clean-up costs to the tobacco industry. Such policies could play a crucial role in addressing this overlooked environmental issue.

In summary, this disturbing research emphasizes that while the environmental costs of tobacco product plastic may seem small compared to the overall economic and human toll of tobacco, they are cumulative and preventable.

This study serves as a call to action for policymakers, environmental agencies, and the tobacco industry to recognize and address the significant environmental and economic burden of tobacco product plastic waste.

The full study was published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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