New York lawmakers want to outlaw cigarette butts

Originally published in New York Daily News

ALBANY — Hold on to your butts.

A group of New York lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would outlaw cigarette filters, known colloquially as “butts,” along with single-use electronic cigarettes.

The Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Act would effectively ban the sale of filtered cigarettes as well as attachable single-use filters, and single use e-cigarettes, starting in 2022.

“Cigarette butts are everywhere — littering our streets, our parks, and our waterways, and spreading plastic pollution and toxic chemicals into our environment and our food supply,” said Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).

Cigarette filters are typically made of about 12,000 strands of cellulose acetate, the same plastic used in sunglasses, and can take decades to biodegrade. They eventually break down into small particles that end up in waterways, in the bodies of fish and other animals, and still contain many of the chemicals, toxins and contaminants trapped from the smoking process.

The common sidewalk sight is a worldwide environmental nuisance as the vast majority of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes manufactured worldwide each year come with filters. As many as two-thirds of those butts are dumped irresponsibly and reach either the ocean or other natural habitats each year, according the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.

“Big Tobacco has spent decades misleading the public about the health benefits of filters in cigarettes,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Nassau). “Not only do these products fail to protect smokers but they also produce massive amounts of pollution and garbage.”

Single use e-cigs would also get the boot under the bill as the cartridges contain components such as lithium-ion batteries, as well as toxic chemicals and liquid nicotine that together qualify them as electronic, toxic, and hazardous waste.

Recent spikes in teen e-cig use coupled with a spate of respiratory illnesses linked to vaping have led to calls for bans on flavored vape products. Legislators in Albany are already weighing several pieces of legislation that would ban flavored tobacco products and even menthol cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of Jan. 14, more than 2,668 people across the U.S. have reported respiratory issues related to vaping and 60 people are known to have died. The majority of the deaths were linked to tainted THC products.

“Banning single-use cigarette butts ensures that our youth do not begin a damaging cycle of tobacco use,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern).