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4 Feb, 2020 13:31

A real kick in the butt! Cigarettes continue emitting harmful chemicals for DAYS after they’re stubbed out, study shows

A real kick in the butt! Cigarettes continue emitting harmful chemicals for DAYS after they’re stubbed out, study shows

Cigarette butts continue to release harmful chemicals into the air for far longer than anyone could have imagined, new research conducted for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows.

Even when a cigarette is extinguished and becomes cold, the butt will still emit harmful compounds; in just the first 24 hours, a stubbed-out butt will produce 14 percent of the nicotine that an actively burning cigarette would. 

While many will be aware of the dangers of second and third-hand smoking (where residues embed themselves in fabrics and linger on walls and furniture) the invisible toxins emitted by butts long after the cigarette has been smoked have so far been overlooked. 

For instance, during this new study for the FDA, roughly 50 percent of both nicotine and triacetin, a substance found in the cigarette filter, hung around for at least five days. 

“I was absolutely surprised,” says environmental engineer Dustin Poppendieck from the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “The numbers are significant and could have important impacts when butts are disposed of indoors or in cars.”

In their study, researchers placed 2,100 recently extinguished cigarettes inside a chamber made of stainless steel. The cigarettes had been ‘smoked’ by a machine which took six ‘puffs’ per cigarette to mimic the behavior of human smokers.

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The cigarette butts were then allowed to slowly extinguish before being sealed away. The team then measured the quantity of eight toxins emitted by the butts under different humidity and temperature conditions inside a test room. The higher the temperature in the room, the more chemicals the butts emitted. 

In other words, smokers and nonsmokers alike may have grossly underestimated their total exposure to the toxic chemicals produced by lighting up, highlighting the invisible, and long-lasting threat posed by inactive cigarettes. 

An estimated five trillion butts are produced worldwide each year, many of which are improperly disposed of and can end up leeching these harmful chemicals into both the air and the ground.

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