Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you in support of LD 544, which is part of a suite of bills that would prevent plastic pollution this session; and another opportunity for Maine to recruit a group of manufacturers to help clean up the mess created by their products through an extended producer responsibility program.
NRCM believes that solutions to our waste and litter issues can be solved by the producers of the products in question through green product design and then taking responsibility for the collection and recycling of the waste created by their business. Too often, products are sold into our state with little regard to what happens when someone is done using them. Municipalities and taxpayers typically get saddled with the burden of funding and cleaning up the mess created by companies and their customers, and that is neither an equitable nor effective solution. For all problematic waste streams, like tobacco product waste, it makes sense to require that the producers participate in finding solutions—which is why we support the concept behind LD 544.
The Problems with Cigarette Filters
Tobacco products have significant negative environmental and health impacts throughout their life-cycle: from growing and curing, to manufacturing and distribution, consumption, and then as post-consumer waste. All of these problems deserve attention and solutions, but we believe that LD 544 should at least find solutions to problems with plastic cigarette filters, and here is why:
- Filters are everywhere; a blight to our community and economy. Cigarette butts are by far the largest single type of litter by count, and make up 30-40% of all items picked up in clean-ups across the nation.¹ NRCM estimates that at least 780 million cigarette butts are improperly discarded directly into Maine’s environment every year.² The presence of filters in our community has significant economic impacts including additional street sweeping and storm drain cleaning; and studies have shown this litter can result in a decline in foot traffic, tourism, business development, and housing in a community.³ Further, the abandoned lit filters create a fire hazard. Maine’s environment and economy are inextricably linked, which makes litter an issue of utmost importance in our beautiful state.
- Filters are primarily made of plastic and contain a high concentration of heavy metals that pollute our waters and harm wildlife. More than 90% of cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate. Like other plastics, the tiny fibers in cigarette butts do not biodegrade; rather, they break up into even smaller particles through UV degradation. Plastic cigarette filters contain a host of toxins that harm wildlife and water quality, including heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Studies show these toxins begin leaching from the plastic within 24 hours when a post-consumer filter is submerged in water, and this leaching occurs for up to 10 years per cigarette butt in the environment. One study found that a single cigarette butt per liter of water was acutely toxic to two different fish species, one freshwater and one marine species.4
- Filters have led to more smoking and lung cancer. Evidence suggests that filters on cigarettes do not make smoking safer for the consumer—and instead the filters may have led to an increase in lung cancer since they were introduced in the mid-1960s. Since then, lung adenocarcinoma rates paradoxically increased relative to other lung cancer subtypes.5 The reasons for this are likely to be because the filter alters tobacco combustion, increasing smoke toxicants; allows smokers to inhale more smoke to maintain their nicotine intake; and causes a false perception of lower health risk. Independent researchers have suggested that the Food and Drug Administration consider regulating filter use, including a ban on filters all together.
Potential Solutions to Prevent Cigarette Filters from Entering Our Environment
- Ban the sale of single-use filters. The most simple and effective option for eliminating litter from cigarette filters is to ban the sale of the filters. We know that they don’t provide any benefits to the smoker aside from making smoking easier, so this would be a win-win scenario for smoking cessation and litter reduction. Maine could consider a multi-year phase-in ban in the sale of single-use cellulose acetate filters, followed by single-use cigarillo tips, and single-use electronic smoking devices.
- Extended-producer Responsibility Program for Tobacco Waste Products—LD 544. NRCM believes the concept proposed in LD 544 would establish an effective collection network with sustainable funding from the tobacco industry, and we would support the Committee in developing statutory language to establish such a program. I believe that another option, albeit less effective, would be for individual municipalities to design and run plastic filter collection programs on their own, but be reimbursed by a tobacco industry stewardship organization.
We hope these ideas might help you shape a bill that earns broad Committee support. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments in support of LD 544. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.
1 World Health Organization 2017 report; Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview
2 About 65 million packs sold in Maine in 2016 equals 1.2 billion cigarettes; littering rate is estimated at 65%.
3 Source: Keep America Beautiful. https://www.kab.org/cigarette-litter-prevention/economic-environmental-impact
4 US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish, 2011 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088407/