For years environmentalists have been pressuring cigarette makers to cut back on synthetic chemicals in their products, to reduce their harm to both smokers and non-smokers. Regulators have been worried about second hand smoke for years, and have been passing indoor smoking bans state by state. Today you can go to work, shop, or go out to eat in many places without being inundated with toxic haze from smokers.
However, there is still a problem with cigarette butts left behind by smokers. We all see this litter on our sidewalks, roads, and parking lots, often just feet from a trash bin. Unfortunately, many smokers still toss their spent cigarettes out their cars.
Although people are smoking less in America thanks to decades of public health campaigns, cigarette butts are still a significant trash problem. The core of the butt can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to decompose. During that time, the cigarette filters are full of tar, nicotine, and other toxins that can leach into the ground, potentially affecting any organism that comes into contact with them. Butts pushed by rain into storm drains can make it into the ocean, where they can release their toxic chemicals, or get eaten by fish or birds.
Although it is also a controversial product, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, could help reduce this toxic burden. The devices use a small amount of power to vaporize nicotine, which is then inhaled. Some are marketed as entirely nicotine free, and many have flavorings added. Many are advertised as helping smokers wean themselves off their habit.
Most electronic cigarettes are reusable, meaning only a tiny amount of vapor needs to be refilled for each use. This means they are potentially more eco-friendly than going through mountains of single-use products, which take resources to produce.
E-cigs are typically powered by reusable batteries, and are often charged via USB ports. Because electronic cigarettes are smokefree, they are much less risky to non-users and to air quality in general. The health impacts on users are nil, since these products are tar-free, tobacco-free and smokefree. The FDA has encouraged their use, pointing out that there is enough data to know that just nicotine inhalation is far better than the contrasting effects of cigarette tobacco inhalation.
Health professionals suggest consumers should switch to e-cigarettes,as they could function as a useful smoking cessation intermediary. It’s obvious that quitting smoking is difficult, but maybe there is value to a product that does not cause as much harm, but that helps one stop using a product that we know causes harm.