Extinguished Cigarette Butts Can Still Cause Cancer

A U.S. Department of Commerce researcher discovered that cigarette butts continued to emit toxins for up to 7 days after being extinguished. This poses a greater danger to non-smokers than was initially thought.

Cigarette Butts

Cigarette Butts

It is estimated that 4.3 billion cigarette butts are thrown out in public places around the world every year, or 137,000 cigarette butts per second. We know it takes an average of 12 years for a cigarette butt to degrade completely, but does it release chemicals when extinguished? That is the question asked by Dustin Poppendieck of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. His work is published on the agency’s website.

Unextinguished cigarette butts emit toxic chemicals

As part of an agreement with the FDA to look at the overall effects of tobacco on our lives, Dustin Poppendieck and his team have built a “smoke machine”. This invention is designed to consume 1,200 cigarettes in exactly the same way as people do. The extinguished cigarette butts were placed in a stainless steel room to measure air emissions. The team also tried to determine whether environmental differences in humidity and temperature could affect these emission figures.

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The result is instructive: most of the chemicals contained in the extinguished cigarette butts were released into the atmosphere within the next 24 hours. Worse still, the concentrations of nicotine and triacetin (a plasticizer used in the filter design) were still about 50% of the original level five days later.

Non-smokers are doubly exposed

“For seven days, the nicotine of an extinguished cigarette butt could be similar to that of the smoke of an active cigarette,” Dustin Poppendieck explained. In short, if you don’t empty the ashtray – at home or in the car, for example – for a week, non-smokers could be exposed to twice as much nicotine as previously thought. An extinguished and crushed cigarette continues to release substances that are toxic to health. The research team stresses the need, for example, to bury cigarette butts in a pot of sand instead of leaving them out in the open.

Read Also: Vaping: Devastating Effects on the Lungs

“You might think that by never smoking in your car when your children are around, you are protecting them. But if the ashtray in your car is full of cigarette butts that emit these chemicals, they will be exposed to them over time,” concludes the researcher.

Second-hand smoke kills

As a reminder, cigarette smoke contains about 4,000 different chemicals, including 60 carcinogens. “In addition to the discomfort caused, passive smoking aggravates existing pathologies in adults and creates new ones (oral, breast cancer, strokes, lung cancer, heart attacks, etc.). Although the risks are certainly less important than for active smokers, the health consequences for non-smokers are real. Moreover, these risks increase with the duration and intensity of exposure. In the US, it is estimated that thousands of non-smokers die prematurely from second-hand smoke each year as a result of passive smoking.



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