Cigarette Butts Kill Fish According to New Study

One of the most common forms of litter is cigarette butts. Once these butts enter waterways, they become toxic to fish. According to a new study by San Diego State University (SDSU), filter-tipped cigarette butts are deadly to marine and freshwater fish. In fact, researchers would like to have the butts classified as hazardous waste.

cigarette butt
Patrick Brinksma / Unsplash

Cigarette butts are not biodegradable. The filters are made up of 12,000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers that trap nicotine and tar. There’s enough nicotine trapped in 200 used cigarette filters to kill a human! An estimated 1.69 billion pounds of butts are littered each year worldwide, so you can imagine the negative effects these butts have on aquatic life when they wash into streams and oceans. SDSU Public Health Professor Tom Novotny explains, “It is toxic at rather low concentrations. Even one butt in a liter of water can kill the fish in a period of 96 hours.”

Lead researcher Richard Gersberg studied three types of cigarettes: smoked filtered cigarettes without tobacco, smoked filtered cigarettes with tobacco, and clean un-smoked filtered cigarettes. All three types killed half of the fish in low concentration, although researchers at SDSU found the filter and its remnants are the most toxic part of a cigarette for fish.

Professor Novotny continues: “When they unconsciously throw their butts onto the ground, it’s not just litter, it’s a toxic hazardous waste product, and that’s what we’re trying to say. So that may be regulated at the local or state level. And we hope people will be more conscious about what they do with these cigarette butts.”

If you are a cigarette smoker or know someone that is, please dispose of your butts appropriately.

Written by Jennifer Lance


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  1. I think there’s a simple solution.

    Just like they do with soda cans, charge a nickel deposit on each individual cigarette. You can then redeem the butts for the nickel after they’re smoked. All smokers may not care about the nickel, but I’m sure that there will be some enterprising individuals redeeming all of those butts to get the deposits back.

  2. It only takes one ingested cigarette butt to kill an infant or toddler, and many die needlessly every year.

  3. That’s horrible, but without enough pressure these cigarette companies are unlikely to do anything about it.

    I don’t really think that ecological cigarettes are really going to increase motivation to buy them. The clientele that buy cigarettes are likely not those that actually care about issues like this.

  4. @TV Spy: You are wrong. Many smokers, like myself, do care about ecological issues. Most of us in this group make sure to dispose of our butts in a manner that keeps them out of circulation (like in an ash tray). If filters could be made more eco-friendly, I personally know that many people would buy on that premise alone.

    @Willy: thats a bit extreme. It would add a lot of expense, and collection would be difficult. Have you ever handled a large pile of used smokes? It would be beyond the capacity of most people who smoke to collect all of them, a better solution is simply encouraging people to leave them in a tray, and provide disposal spaces at more areas.

  5. Check out Responsible Smokers Act, Ashtrays from cigarette butts, a solution with in the problem. Use the litter to make places for proper Disposal, Make the litter a resource, while educating the smokers of the environmental destruction….like an eTRUTH commercial.

  6. @TV Spy
    I smoke, and i smoke responsibly. I know there are only a few people that really do not litter there smoking byproducts at all. But this is from the lack of education and facilities to collect and deter littering. To tell you the truth, its not the filter that is the major problem, its the chemicals it traps before it is tossed. If a smoker is smoking a filtered cigarette they are knowingly causing harm to themselves. in the US, this is a right to smoke. But the filter was employed on a cigarette in 1954, to so call make cigarettes safer, by trapping the toxins in the filter, instead of them seeping into your mouth and douseing your lungs. So when a smoker tosses a butt, they take the right of all other life forms, and leech those toxic chemicals into the environment. RSA has come up with a solution. Since you will never get the Tobacco Companies to admit it, and the EPA for some reason has not done any so call studies. With articles like this one, and groups like RSA, “We the People” are the only ones to fix this problem. Responsible Smokers Act, hopes to collect clean and re-manufacture the cellulose acetate filter, turning it into a Public Ashtray, that provides facilities, while educating of the Repercussions of Littering. Fight the problem with the problem. All this can be claimed to iggnorance, but educate and there is no reason for this to happen any longer. Thankfully there is an explosion of effort being done world wide in the past year.

  7. Aloha
    I have been doing my best for over 30 +years to inform people on the dangers of leaving behind toxic butts, a few get the message, most don’t care, most people in todays world only think of me,me, me, sad (butt) true, smokers are mostly mad at them selves, because they are not strong enough to quit, It took me years, they don’t seem to mind sharing their problem with us non-smokers, (SOME CARE) most don’t.
    Imposing fines is one way to slow up the toxic butts that can kill our children and wildlife also contaminate our natural waterways, There are to many BUTTheads out there, warnings and pictures don’t work, fines will.
    We are all in this neighborhood together, we need to wake up the people, that don’t care

  8. Before i ordered one i did my research and im very happy with my e-cigs.. is a pretty good resource…
    The real joy of the device is for people who want to continue to use nicotine but don’t want to stink like an ashtray or cough all the time. I use my e-cig all day at the office; it produces no discernable odor at all. My co-workers think it’s hilarious; I’m enjoying my nicotine buzz and laughing at them while they go outside to smoke in the rain.
    The FDA continually tries to extend their sphere of influence through hyperbole and a zero tolerance attitude toward personal risk, no matter how slight. Witness the Ephedrine fiasco, where the FDA arbitrarily banned the drug but was forced to do an about face by the court system after failing to prove that it was a systemically dangerous product.

  9. Cigarettes are good for the nation! They cause a boom in medical costs, and jobs in that industry.They are a revenue source for the government, they employ countless farmers and agricultural workers to produce the tobacco, and even more folk work in their manufacture, advertising and distribution! They are absolutely addictive, and provide a re-assured investments base for all America! The folks that smoke are “Taxed” into supporting a successful America through physical addiction as strong as even Heroin has to offer, and unlike “weed”, they cannot survive without their, hourly in some cases, fix! Good News for the investor, in a shakey at best economy! Before “weed “is legalized it must be adulterated with tobacco, opiates or heroin to make it addictive to guarantee repeat use, and ROI, and start another corporatists success! America will be stronger for this! The “Capo’s” of the health insurance industries, at the “selections” will not fail us and will devise a small blow tube affair, and questionnaire to test for lung capacities, smokers, and reject the sick on the spot for it, thus averting great expenses for the industry and improving profitability by cutting down the qualified recipients, much as they do now! – an insurance companies dream come true! Only in America! Next, all alcoholic drinks must be “spiked” with opiates, or some other undetectable addictive, to work the same success story for America’ economy, and even soda pop is a candidate! Just think! Spiked candy bars! Sales galore! a corporatist’s wildest dreams, and the American economy revived in a single generation! God Bless America, Land of the Free! Home of the Brave!

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