Cigarette butts are the most common form of plastic waste in the world. They consist of more than 15,000 detachable strands of plastic fiber that pose a huge threat to the environment.
How do cigarettes impact the environment?
They are made of cellulose acetate, a man-made plastic material that contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. This plastic part of the butt can take up to ten years tocompletely degrade. On top of this the chemicals that leach into the environment can hang around for many more years even after the cigarette has degraded past the point that the eye can see.
These lingering toxins include arsenic (also found in rat poisoning), lead, and nicotine. One smoked cigarette butt can leach and contaminate up to 1000 litres of water. Yikes!
How is New Zealand reducing the negative impact of cigarettes?
In a plan to prevent the next generation from smoking, New Zealand is banning people born after the year 2013 from being able to purchase cigarettes in their lifetime.
How will the ban work?
No one under the age of 14 when the law is in place will ever be able to legally purchase cigarettes for the rest of their life. So this means a person aged 50 in 2063 will not be allowed to do so, however a 51 year old will.
Why 14 and under?!
NZ health authorities say that smoking is typically taken up during youth years, with four out of five people beginning at the age of 18. Stopping this generation from taking up this habit could prevent up to5000deaths per year, not to mention the benefits for the environment!
What else is included in the legislation?
The plan also involved restricting the locations tobacco and cigarettes can be sold by 2024, and reducing the level of nicotineallowed in tobacco products by 2025.
Is this the strictest law against cigarettes in the world?!
No, Bhutan, the world's only carbon-negative country banned cigarette sales outright in 2010. They still allowed smokers to import controlled amounts of tobacco products if they paid hefty duties and taxes and smoked in a private setting.
Borders werecloseddue to the pandemic, however, people still tried to smuggle tobacco into Bhutan. COVID transmission between tobacco smugglers led to the ban being temporarily lifted to stop the spread in 2020. The prime minister (Lotay Tshering) insists that the lift is only temporary and it will be reversed.
What can you do on an individual level?
Even if you don't smoke there is still so much you can do to lower their impact on the planet. Firstly, you can pick them up if you see them in the environment (we suggest wearing gloves as they are pretty unhygienic!). Secondly, you can use your voice and spread the word about why it's important to responsibly dispose of cigarettes. I personally didn't know that they could contaminate up to 1000 litres of water?!