EL PASO, Texas —When people talk about the dangers of smoking, they are usually focused on the health risks, and hardly on the damage that cigarette pollution does on the environment.
People walking the streets of El Paso can see the beautiful Franklin mountains that rise from the city and the brilliant red sunsets. As they appreciate the unique environment, they also can see cigarette butts littering the sidewalks.
Cigarette butts are all over the UTEP campus, especially on the floor next to the cigarette ashtrays. Dr. Elizabeth Walsh, a biology professor and a member of an environmental advocacy group, said she usually see smokers outside the biology building flip their cigarette butts right next to ashtray. “A lot of smokers seem to think that cigarette butts aren’t litter and that they biodegrade,” she said.
According to Walsh, cigarette filters do not degrade very rapidly, especially in a dessert and dry environment. “They might even be considered toxic waste with all the chemicals that go through the cigarette filter.” The filter is there to capture all the chemicals and prevent them from going into people’s lungs, she said.
Microbiologist Carlos Bravo, who works at the City of El Paso Environmental Laboratory, considers that another cigarettes pollution problem occurs when butts end up in the drains and contaminate the water. “Cigarette filters contain all kinds of toxins that are harmful for the environment and for us,” he said. Bravo also said that not all the material used in a cigarette filter is biodegradable.
Cigarettes are also harmful to wildlife. Animals are not resistant to nicotine, and other toxins found in cigarette filters. According to Minerva Laveaga, animal rights activist, when a cigarette filter gets to the drain and then from the drain goes into the rivers, it looks like food to a fish and the toxins eventually kill the animal and damage the ecosystem. Sometimes the filter itself chokes the fish, she said.
Adon Núñes, a student at the business department at UTEP, who smokes outside the Business Department building, said that he never thought about the pollution that cigarettes create. “To be honest I never thought about the consequences that throwing a filter had on the environment.” Núñes said he believes that smokers should be more informed about this subject, in order to change their habits of throwing cigarette butts on the floor. “Smoker should know the consequences of their littering.”
Trevor Duarte, a microbiologist and PhD candidate in the Biology Department, said one option that might reduce cigarette pollution could be the creation of a recycling program for cigarette filters. Duarte said that according to the New York Times, a Chinese scientist found that cigarette-litter dissolved into a fluid and applied to iron pipes keeps them from corroding, and an inventor in Ohio has a patent pending to turn cigarette butts into adhesives and sealants.
It is also important to know that some studies suggest that the air pollution emitted by cigarettes is 10 times greater than diesel car exhaust. According to an article published by Medical News Today, tobacco smoke also produces fine particulate matter, which is the most unhealthy element in air pollution.