World No Tobacco Day – highlights the damage tobacco does to the environment

Discarded cigarette butts and disposable vaping products are having devastating impacts on Scotland’s beaches and waters, according to leading public health and environment representatives who are urging people in Scotland to bin the offending items and packaging after use.

The horrific environmental impacts of plastic cigarette filters, one of the most common forms of litter, were highlighted by health charity ASH Scotland, the Marine Conservation Society, Zero Waste Scotland, Scottish Water and Keep Scotland Beautiful to mark World No Tobacco Day on Tuesday 31st May 2022.

Almost all of the 3.65 billion cigarettes smoked in Scotland each year contain a filter made of the plastic cellulose acetate. Plastic cigarette butts can take more than 10 years to decompose and leach thousands of toxic chemicals; polluting our seas and harming marine life. 

In the last year, the Marine Conservation Society’s beach clean and litter surveys have seen volunteers remove more than 1,200 cigarette stubs from 129 beach cleans on Scottish shores. There has also been a noticeable rise in disposable vaping products contributing to pollution across the country in recent months.

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland, said: “With the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day focusing on protecting the environment, we are asking people to consider the damage caused by discarded tobacco and related products. Cigarette filters continue to be a major source of plastics pollution with an estimated 600,000 kg of waste, enough to fill 50 bin lorries, threatening Scotland’s environment each year. We are also increasingly concerned about the noticeable escalation of littering and pollution risks caused by discarded single use disposable vaping products that contain single use plastics as well as toxic chemicals and battery components.”

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer for the Marine Conservation Society said: “During last year’s Great British Beach Clean, an average of 9.4 cigarette stubs were recorded for every 100 metres of Scottish beach surveyed. Cigarette stubs have consistently made it into the top 12 most common items polluting Scotland’s beaches over the last five years. Now, with more of our volunteers reporting vaping litter, action has to be taken to stop this rising tide. We’re calling on Scottish Government to take world-leading legislative action to tackle single-use plastic cigarette filters and smoking litter. We need to encourage and support action to ensure smoking related litter is properly disposed of, so it can’t damage the health of Scotland’s people and environment.”

Kim Young, Litter and Flytipping Manager at Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Any form of littering is an unacceptable, anti-social behaviour that is damaging to the environment and to the economy. Single-use items such as cigarette filters and vaping products can last in our environment for years and years, so it is vital that we make sure these are disposed of correctly. Prevention is always better than cure, and by changing our attitudes towards litter we can all make a positive difference. Ending Scotland’s throwaway society begins with the basics – not dropping items in our environment but in a bin where they belong.”

Brian Lironi, Scottish Water Corporate Affairs Director, said: “We welcome measures which reduce the impact that throwaway single-use plastic products have on the environment, particularly Scotland's celebrated water and marine habitats. We aim to reduce the impact of plastic by stopping it at source from entering the water cycle and our country's sewers and wastewater treatment sites. Our Nature Calls campaign calls for people to bin wipes – many of which contain plastic – and that would also extend to cigarette butts and other smoking-related litter. When discarded, these items make their way into the water cycle and waste water system – they simply should not be there.”

Catherine Gee, Deputy Chief Executive at Keep Scotland Beautiful: “Cigarette litter is by far the most common littered item found in Scotland. With three out of five sites audited recording cigarette litter, increasing to four out of five sites in town/city centres, these tiny plastic litter items need to be eradicated – no ifs, no butts! We want it to be easy for people to do the right thing for our environment.”

World No Tobacco Day, established by the World Health Organization (WHO), is spotlighting the tobacco industry’s contribution to the global climate crisis including the chopping down of 600,000,000 trees to make cigarettes and 84,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions released into the air annually. www.who.int/campaigns/world-no-tobacco-day/2022

REHIS is a registered charity in Scotland, SC009406

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