Intended for healthcare professionals


No more butts

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 23 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l5890
  1. May C I van Schalkwyk, research fellow1,
  2. Thomas E Novotny, professor emeritus, public health12,
  3. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1
  1. 1Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2San Diego State University School of Public Health, CA, USA
  1. Correspondence to: T E Novotny tnovotny{at}

Reducing plastic pollution means banning the sale of filtered cigarettes

Growing awareness of the harm done to ecosystems through disposal of vast quantities of plastic has created public outrage and compelled governments to act.1 The European Union, for example, will ban many single-use plastic products, such as cutlery, plates, and straws, from 2021.2 However, these measures do not extend to one of the leading sources of plastic waste worldwide that is hiding in plain sight: the cigarette butt.

The largest part of most cigarette butts is a non-biodegradable plastic filter made of cellulose acetate.3 Filters first appeared in the 1950s following early health concerns about cigarettes, and their rapid adoption was helped by the post-war explosion in manufacturing of plastics.4 The tobacco industry portrayed filters as a way to make cigarettes safer by absorbing some of the “tar” that was implicated in the lung cancer epidemic. We now know that this safety argument was a myth (box 1), one of many created by the tobacco industry to sell cigarettes.6

Box 1

Filtering the truth

• “Filters are the deadliest fraud in the history of human civilization. They are put on cigarettes to save on the cost of tobacco and to fool people. They …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription