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ENSP Special Newsletter
Tobacco & Plastic Pollution
30 November 2022

Paving the way for an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution and cigarette butts

On 2 March 2022, 175 countries of the United Nations Environment Council (UNEA) adopted a resolution to negotiate an international legally binding agreement to "end plastic pollution" by the end of 2024. The UNEA resolution 5/14 mandated an Open Working Group to carry out preparatory work ahead of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) negotiations. The first session of the INC aims to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The session currently takes place (from 28 November to 2 December) in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
6 trillion cigarette filters are produced and consumed annually, which have a significant environmental and health impact.

The environmental impact

These filters consist of cellulose acetate and break down into microplastics that are released into the (aquatic) environment. In addition to plastic, cigarette butts contain toxic substances, including arsenic, heavy metals, zinc and copper, which also end up in the environment. Cigarette filters form the largest fraction of litter in the world (WHO, 2017), and therefore represent a major environmental problem. The theme of this year's World No Tobacco Day 2022 (who.int) was "Tobacco, poisoning our planet" for a good reason.

The health impact

In addition, the vast majority of independent research suggests that filters do not reduce the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, contrary to popular belief. In the 1950s, it became clear that smoking causes lung cancer. The tobacco industry then developed the cellulose acetate filter and promoted the filter as a means of reducing the health risks associated with smoking. Smokers embraced the filter cigarette and today, the market share of filter cigarettes far exceeds that of unfiltered cigarettes. Filters can actually amplify the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, as the filter affects the burning conditions of the tobacco, increasing certain carcinogenic substances (so-called tobacco-specific nitrosamines). These substances can cause a certain type of lung cancer (adenocarcinoma). Smokers may also inhale deeper because of the filter. Toxic fibers from the cut end of the filter can also be inhaled and swallowed by smokers.

Moreover, the recent 'rigged cigarette' ruling by the Rotterdam District Court indicates unequivocally that filters do not make smoking 'healthier' and are a marketing tool of the tobacco industry. Filter cigarettes are more harmful and addictive than the tobacco industry pretends, as smokers ingest far more poison and nicotine than is found in official measurements. This is because cigarette filters have tiny holes through which, in official measurements, air is drawn, diluting the toxins. Smokers cover these holes with their mouths and fingers, which means that in practice this dilution is omitted: NVWA moet handhavend optreden tegen verkoop filtersigaretten (rechtspraak.nl)/

As a partner of the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance | GGTC, the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention asks you to support the following in the context of this treaty: 
  1. The tobacco industry should be excluded from policy development and not, in line with Art. 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) be treated as a regular stakeholder
  2. Introduction to the convention of a filter ban
  3. Based on the 'polluter pays' principle, making tobacco products financially responsible for the damage caused
Additional resources can be found down below:
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Global action on plastics and the EU involvement

Collective actions and recommendations have been widely disseminated at the global level. In her video message, the Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo, MD MA, raises awareness of the environmental dangers of cigarette butts and encourages the public to join the UNEP Clean Seas Campaign.
In this direction, the EU continues to work with its allies and other partners aiming at a rapid conclusion of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee established at UNEA5. Over the years, the EU has taken different actions to support a global agreement on plastics and the global shift towards a circular economy. In 2022, more frequent meetings have been planned, with the ultimate goal of reaching a final agreement through a diplomatic conference by 2024.

Vaping as the newest environmental threat

In addition to cigarette butts waste, electronic cigarettes pose another crucial threat to the environment, especially because these devices are rarely recycled. " Research by Material Focus found that around 1.3 million single-use e-cigarettes are thrown away in the UK every week - equivalent to two every second.", says euronews.green in their article.
The main problem with these products is that consumers (often the younger population), are not aware of the damage they do to the environment when they throw away the empty devices. A lack of regulation is clearly observed here, which adds to the lack of commitment from manufacturers in tackling this problem and informing its users.
Euronews also mentions that "As their batteries and circuit boards break down, vapes leach toxic chemicals into the environment, while their casing grinds down into harmful microplastics. When they are recycled, the components pose a fire risk creating another headache even when they are disposed of properly.".
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Now also indexed in PubMed Central. Learn more...

Relevant publications in the TPC Journal:
Katrin Schaller
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