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CORESTA Meeting, Smoke Science/Product Technology, 2023, Cancun, STPOST 50

Data gap analysis and proposal for environmental chemical risk assessment of cigarette butts

JT International SA, Geneva, Switzerland

The environmental impact of cigarette butts (CB) is a public concern with increasing scientific and media attention. Limited studies on the potential ecological risk have led to policy proposals for banning cigarette filters or classifying them as a microplastics source and Hazardous Waste with potential Extended Producer Responsibility and tax implications. These considerations correlate with growing concerns over chemicals in general, with > 50 % of all currently registered chemicals classified as hazardous to human health and 30 % as hazardous to the environment. This study reviews the toxic potency of CB and their environmental levels to propose a method for estimating ecological risk focusing on aquatic species (the most sensitive to chemicals in general). Regulatory values on Predicted No Effect Concentrations (PNECs) of chemicals in CB were compared with the concentrations published in fresh and sea water. When the environmental concentrations were below the PNECs, it was concluded that there was no ecological risk.

Ecotoxicological studies and data on environmental exposure scenarios of the thousands of chemicals in CB are scarce. This is in accordance with observations on chemicals by environmental regulatory agencies. However, when using well characterized PNECs (for nicotine and cotinine), an ecological risk was calculated only in a few freshwater ecosystems, with small water volume and high human population. Similar or higher risks are estimated for other common substances (e.g., caffeine, household chemicals), and much higher risks for human and veterinary pharmaceuticals.

There is a high variability and uncertainty for estimating the chemical concentrations in individual environments at local or regional levels. These chemicals may be prioritized using nicotine as a surrogate marker and considering their environmental fate. It is hypothesized that the release from CB is low when compared with other anthropogenic and natural sources. Overall, there is very limited or no ecological risk for the best characterized chemicals.