Like many California voters, it’s likely you have received mailers or seen TV ads promoting the many health benefits of Prop 56’s tax on tobacco products. Less is known, however, about Prop 56’s environmental benefits.
The frightening truth is that non-biodegradable cigarette butts are the most common type of trash found in the Bay. This is why, as part of our Butt Free Bay campaign, Save The Bay proudly supports Prop 56 and the inevitable impact it will make on reducing the amount of tobacco litter making its way into our local ecosystems.
Data shows that between one-third and two-thirds of all cigarettes smoked end up as litter, and Save The Bay estimates that 3 billion cigarette butts are littered in the Bay Area each year. Unfortunately, all too often the abundance of cigarette butts we see lining our sidewalks and blanketing our streets make their way into stormwater drains. From there they flow into creeks and waterways that lead directly to the Bay. As a result, cigarette butts are the most common form of litter collected along Bay Area shorelines, accounting for 40 percent of all trash collected on Coastal Cleanup Day over the last 20 years. All that litter creates a financial impact for taxpayers as well, with the city of San Francisco estimating they spent $6 million to clean up cigarette butts in 2009 alone. By reducing the number of cigarettes smoked, Prop 56 will reduce cigarette litter and help to shift some of this financial burden away from average taxpayers, taxing only those who use tobacco products, while benefiting the environmental health of the entire Bay Area.
Contrary to widespread opinion, cigarette butts don’t just disintegrate after being casually discarded. In fact, cigarette filters are made up of a non-biodegradable plastic called cellulose acetate that can remain in the environment for up to a decade. These butts contain many toxic chemicals and heavy metals, such as acetic acid, chromium, lead, and arsenic, that then leach out and pose a toxic threat to our Bay and oceans. One study showed that just a single cigarette butt in a liter of water killed half of all small fish living in it. Additionally, cigarettes butts can be mistaken for food by Bay Area wildlife, leading to deadly results such as choking and malnutrition.
Studies suggest that even a minor increase in the cigarette tax can have a noticeable effect on the number of cigarettes smoked. Consequentially, Prop 56’s sizeable $2 tax increase could lead to a significant reduction in cigarette consumption in the Bay Area and a huge effect on the amount of litter reaching the Bay. This is why we’re proud to join organizations like the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association in supporting Yes on 56, and urge you to do the same. Want to get more involved? Visit http://www.yeson56.org/take-action/, and, of course, get out and vote on Nov. 8!