By: Tracy DeCubellis, Gilchrist County Community Health Advocate
Around the United States, many recreation areas such as beaches, parks, and other nature and recreational areas have attempted to stem the tide of environmental damage caused by tobacco waste by creating tobacco free areas. Many people tend to think of tobacco in terms of secondhand smoke, which is important to be sure, but it is not often that the impact of those cigarette butts, e-cigarette waste, snuff and snus pouches, and other tobacco residue is actually having on natural areas and wildlife when people use them in natural settings.
It is a well-known fact that tobacco products contain a variety of toxins like nicotine, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, arsenic, and a variety of other chemicals. They do not disappear when someone is finished using a tobacco product and they throw it on the ground. Instead, the toxins that remain in the product are deposited on the ground. Did you know that cigarette butts are not biodegradable? All of those cigarette butts that are thrown on the ground stay there, polluting the environment. The sad fact is that cigarette butts are the number one source of beach pollution around the world (1). In fact, only about 10% of all cigarette butts are actually thrown away or put into ashtrays (2).
This is an issue that should be seriously considered, especially areas that have rivers, springs, beaches and wildlife or natural areas used by the public. These areas can be a tremendous resource for the community and the state, but what happens if tobacco trash is littered in those areas? Animals such as birds and fish have been shown to eat tobacco trash, like cigarette butts, and they have been discovered in the stomachs of animals (3). Additionally, a study was done to find out the impact of a few cigarette butts on surrounding marine environments. It was discovered that putting just one cigarette butt into a liter of water had the effect of killing half of the fish that were exposed to it (4).
If healthy rivers, springs, and natural areas is an important issue to you, consider ways to get involved to help work toward a Florida free from tobacco waste.
Statewide Survey Reveals Broad Support for New Rules to Reduce Youth Exposure to Secondhand Smoke and Youth Access to Tobacco
QuitDoc Research and Education Foundation (QuitDoc) coordinated a statewide survey to study the attitudes of adult Floridians on tobacco issues that affect children. The survey was conducted because of a growing concern among parents that they are unable to completely protect their children from the risks of tobacco use. The survey assessed public support for policies that would help to reduce those risks.
The results of the February 2015 poll conducted by Republic Polling, a Delaware public opinion polling firm with offices in Florida, revealed strong support for new rules to protect children from secondhand smoke exposure in outdoor public places. A remarkable 72% of the respondents felt that local governments should have the right to prohibit smoking in public places wherever children may be present, such as parks and playgrounds. In addition, a substantial majority – 65% of respondents - believed that smoking should be prohibited in outdoor eating areas.
“Tobacco prevention groups have clearly done a good job educating Floridians on the risks of secondhand smoke,” said Dr. Kirk Voelker, a Pulmonologist and Co-Founder of QuitDoc. “77% of those surveyed believe that secondhand smoke is very harmful to children. However, nearly 4 out of every 10 middle school students still reported exposure to secondhand smoke in the 2014 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, including 19.0% that reported exposure to secondhand smoke in a public place. This public smoking makes it very hard for parents to completely protect their children.”
When asked about specific solutions to address this issue, an overwhelming 70% of those surveyed favored new rules to prohibit the use of tobacco products in state parks and beaches, with 54% strongly in favor of such a policy. Similarly, 69% of respondents favored new rules restoring the rights of local governments to pass their own rules regarding outdoor smoking in municipal parks, playgrounds, and beaches, with 50% strongly in favor.
Trying to protect children from secondhand smoke exposure in public has been made more complicated by The Florida Clean Indoor Air Act of 2003. “While the law was designed to create smoke-free indoor workplaces, the statute includes a clause regulating local communities that prevents them from taking any additional steps to reduce secondhand smoke exposure in outdoor venues” added Dr. Voelker. “Our survey results demonstrate that the citizens of Florida are very much in favor of removing that regulation.”
In addition to the research on secondhand smoke exposure, the survey collected data on youth access to tobacco products, including adult attitudes on the legal age to purchase tobacco and flavored tobacco products that are preferred by youth.
According to the 2014 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, 9.2% of high school students currently use any form of tobacco, and 8.8% of high school students currently use flavored tobacco. This means that nearly 96% of high school tobacco users are using flavored tobacco.
71% of the adults surveyed were in favor of new rules requiring that flavored tobacco products be sold only in tobacco specialty stores, including 57% who were strongly in favor of such a rule.
Similarly, 69% of the respondents also favored changing the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21, with 54% strongly in favor of such an increase.
“85% of new tobacco users start between the ages of 12 and 17, and flavored tobacco products are their drug of choice,” said Dr. Voelker. “Floridians seem to realize that increasing the legal age and limiting the sale of certain items to stores that restrict youth access will have a profound impact on youth tobacco use.”
To see the full survey, you can download the document below.