BUFFALO, N.Y. — Worldwide smoking causes over seven million deaths a year. But cigarettes do damage to the environment as well.
Among other things, growing tobacco contributes to deforestation, as land is cleared for crops, and it's estimated that the tobacco industry cuts down over 600 million trees a year. Another seemingly small offense is actually a huge source of pollution.
Discarded cigarette butts are the most littered items on Earth.
"4.5 trillion cigarette butts are purchased, cigarettes are purchased a year, and two-thirds of those end up on the ground." Explains Jenna Brinkworth, Roswell Park Cancer Center Communication Engagement Manager.
The problem is not only the toxic chemicals that leach from the tobacco itself but the filters on the cigarettes as well.
"They're made of cellulose acetate," Brinkworth said. " Which looks very much like cotton, cotton fibers, so people think they just go away, but they don't, and they're with us for decades."
"Pollution doesn't have to be littered directly into the water to impact it," Elizabeth Cute, Senior Community Engagement Manager for Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper said. "When it rains, anything that's upland, in parking lots, on roadways, will run off to the low point, which is our waterways. "
It's a problem that has galvanized many to action. In the Village of Hamburg, a group of six senior citizens formed a group called "The Butt Kickers". They take a three-pronged approach to tackling the problem in their community. Patricia Trageser is a volunteer for the group. "First is awareness, let's educate ourselves. The second is let's assess if we have enough ash receptacles for the butts, and three, let's do some clean-up activities!"
The Butt Kickers are part of a larger collaboration across WNY. The Buffalo Niagara Waterkeepers are also instrumental in fighting this scourge.
"We collaborate with a ton of different environmental groups, we're also getting schools involved in clean-ups and getting businesses involved in clean-ups and volunteer efforts," Cute said.
It's something that can be affected on an individual level each and every day. All it takes is to pick them up and toss them in the trash.
Niasha Hamilton of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper says, "Especially when they first came out the culture was stomped out on the ground and flick it because it was super cool, I don't think they realize how much of an impact that one cigarette butt can have. "
"We can tackle it together, "Cute said. " We just need to keep spreading the word and keep getting more and more people involved."