DETROIT (WWJ) – With Earth Day approaching, a public health nonprofit group is trying to call attention to a huge litter problem: cigarette butts.

According to 2011 The Tax Burden on Tobacco report, Americans bought nearly 300 billion cigarettes last year, and they’re still tossing those butts into parks, on beaches and in other waterways. In fact, cigarette butts are the number one most littered item in America.

David Dobbins, spokesman for the nonprofit group Legacy, said a survey they did last month shows that most people don’t realize what a big problem cigarette butts really are.

“We think that if people are aware of how much environmental trouble these cigarette butts are causing, they would want to take action and get people to stop or at least be responsible,” he said.

Dobbins said research shows that cigarette butts have potentially toxic effects on ecosystems. In one laboratory test, one cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water was lethal to half of the fish exposed, he said.

Cigarette butts are made mostly of plastic, which can take years to decompose in the marine environment and down into smaller pieces.

While a majority of the respondents surveyed nationally (78 percent) know that cigarette butts are not typically biodegradable and recognize their toxicity (89 percent), tobacco products are still the most prevalent type of litter collected along U.S. roadways and on beaches. These toxic pieces of trash are only biodegradable under ideal conditions and in “real world” conditions, they merely break up into small particles of plastic.

Dobbins suggested that smokers could be charged an extra fee to cover the costs of clean up.

Read more information on the environmental impact of cigarettes at


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