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Health Unit youth group launches cigarette butt cleanup

SIMCOE, ON, July 18, 2007 – A Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit youth group dedicated to “clearing up Big Tobacco for this generation and the next” is launching a campaign to combat the littering of beaches and other public areas with cigarette butts.

On Wednesday, Aug. 1, the 10 teenage “peer leaders” comprising Fresh Heir, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Youth Action Alliance, will conduct a tour of Haldimand and Norfolk counties, making “butt stops” in Port Dover, Simcoe, Delhi, Waterford, Hagersville, Caledonia, Cayuga and Dunnville. The youths will collect as many cigarette butts from the ground as possible in 30 minutes before heading off to their next destination.

“The number of butts on beaches sometimes makes it difficult to find a clear spot for you to lay out your towel,” commented the Health Unit’s Josh Daley, Youth Advisor, Smoke-Free Ontario Program. “It seems as though some people consider the beach an extremely large, convenient ashtray. Fresh Heir has plans to empty out this ‘ashtray’, along with other parks, walkways and community centres in a ‘Park Your Butts Blitz.’

An estimated 4.5 trillion butts are littered worldwide every year. In national and international coastal cleanups, as well as city street cleanups, cigarette butts routinely top the list of the most common litter items collected. The TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup collected twice the number of cigarette butts than the second most frequent litter item, food wrappers/containers. Cigarette butts have also topped the list of The Ocean Conservancy’s global coastal cleanup for six years in a row.

“People often assume that since cigarette filters are so small and have a paper wrapping, they are biodegradable and relatively harmless. However, that is not the case at all,” said Fresh Heir Peer Leader Lucas Lubin. “Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic that can take more than 10 years to break down, and in the process releases the harmful mixture of chemicals trapped inside.”

The slow rate of decomposition is not only an eyesore on beaches and sidewalks, but also poses serious environmental and health hazards. Cigarette butts can smoulder up to three hours when thrown from a vehicle, and improperly discarded butts are responsible for many brush and forest fires around the world. Butts that accumulate outside buildings and in streets and parking lots are carried by wind and rainwater into the storm drains, where some of the 4,000 hazardous chemicals in the cigarettes leach into the water supply, threatening the quality of the water. Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, whales, birds and other marine animals. Toddlers and households pets can also become violently ill from ingesting cigarette butts.

Katie Mattina, another Fresh Heir peer leader, noted “the goal of our cleanup is to raise awareness of the dangers these discarded cigarette butts cause, and in the process make Haldimand and Norfolk a little bit cleaner and healthier for all of our inhabitants.”

“If people choose to smoke, we just ask that they do so responsibly, taking care to properly dispose of their cigarette butts,” Mattina added. “Home and business owners can also do their part by making sure there are ashtrays conveniently located outdoors to reduce the temptation to just flick the butt on the ground. It may seem trivial to some people, but a few little butts can have a big impact.”

Fresh Heir is always looking for volunteers to help in its efforts to Clear Up Big Tobacco for this Generation and the Next. Those interested in getting involved can contact the group at [email protected] or call the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit at 519-426-6170 Ext. 3276 or 905-318-6623.

Media contact:
Josh Daley
Youth Advisor
Smoke-Free Ontario Program
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit