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Environmental impacts of tobacco product waste: International and Australian policy responses


The health risks of tobacco consumption are well established, but there is less awareness of the global environmental impacts of smoking. The by-products of the 6.3 trillion cigarettes smoked annually are filters (butts) that contain benzene, nicotine, cadmium, and dozens of other chemicals. It is estimated that between one- and two-thirds of all filters are discarded on roads, pavements, and green spaces. Butt litter as an environmental and public health hazard is a relatively new field of study, but recent research and findings have clear global implications. While this article focuses specifically on the situation in Australia, where cigarette butts are consistently the most littered item identified in national clean-up campaigns, the material reviewed has clear international environmental implications. The article first reviews existing literature on filter composition and toxicology, clean-up costs, regulatory response, and key policy actors. It then describes the scale of the butt litter problem in Australia using existing data, and analyses potential remedies at both the domestic and international levels.

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This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute, US National Institutes of Health, Grant R01-CA091021 (RJM).

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Correspondence to Ross MacKenzie.

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Wallbank, L.A., MacKenzie, R. & Beggs, P.J. Environmental impacts of tobacco product waste: International and Australian policy responses. Ambio 46, 361–370 (2017).

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  • Cigarette butt litter
  • Environmental organisations
  • Policy response
  • Tobacco industry
  • Toxicology