UN organizations take aim at cigarette butts’ health & environmental impact

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Secretariat of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control have announced that both entities are collaborating to increase awareness about the environmental and health impacts of microplastics found in cigarette butts. 

Through a social media campaign, both agencies will leverage respective experiences on health and policy dimensions of tobacco products, and the research and advocacy capability on plastic pollution. The partnership between UNEP and WHO FCTC comes under the Clean Seas campaign led by UNEP, a global coalition of 63 countries committed to tackling marine plastic pollution.

To ramp up global awareness, the agencies will seek social media influencers’ support, including UNEP’s Goodwill Ambassadors and Young Champions of the Earth. It will further highlight the European Union’s new law which requires manufacturers to clearly label their tobacco products that has plastic filters.

Atif Butt, UNEP’s Chief of Public Advocacy, said: “The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC has the technical expertise of the impact of tobacco products on not just human health but also on environment. By joining UNEP’s and the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC’s expertise together under the Clean Seas activation on microplastics, we aim to highlight how our health is intrinsically linked to that of our planet.” 

The campaign aims to tackle the health and environmental risks posed by cigarette butts, which is the most littered item in the world. The UN noted that more than six trillion cigarettes are produced annually containing filters composed of cellulose acetate fibres or microplastics, and their butts are often not disposed of properly, creating more than 766 million kilogrammes of trash that contains toxins. When released into the environment, these hazardous chemicals can impact ecosystems’ health and services. 

Many studies have shown the presence of microplastics in animal species and have entered the food chain. Researchers highlight that these microplastics can have serious human health impacts on genes, brain development, and respiratory systems.