California smoking laws blamed for rise in butts found in beach clean-up

Californian laws prohibiting smokers from lighting up inside have been blamed for a 40 percent rise in the number of butts found on California's beaches during California Coastal Cleanup Day last year.

Cigarette butts were the most numerous item for the eighth year in a row. A total of 333,876 butts were reported during the 1998 event, up from 237,709 reported in 1997. The data was recorded by 50,182 Californians who came out to over 600 sites throughout the state last September 19th and was then compiled by the Center for Marine Conservation.

“As California increases the number of laws requiring smokers to go outside to smoke, it’s no surprise that cigarette butts continue to be the number one item,” said Becky Steckler, Statewide Coordinator for the California Coastal Commission.

The smoke free work-place law that came into effect on January 1, 1998 is an effort to protect California workers in restaurants and bars from toxins found in secondhand smoke. “If ashtrays aren’t convenient, people often dispose of their cigarette butts on the sidewalk or in the street. When it rains, the water carries the cigarette butts and trash via storm drain systems and waterways right out to the ocean, where currents wash it up on the beach,” said Steckler.

A recent Caltrans study has also pinpointed cigarette butts as the number one item found along US highways. “We need to raise the consciousness of everyone that cigarette butts are trash and trash in the street means trash on the beach. ”

The total number of items gathered during the 1998 California Coastal Cleanup Day increased by 33 percent, from 1,045,757 in 1997 to 1,388,622 in 1998. Volunteers that took part in the California cleanup documented and removed a record 789,145 pounds of debris from US beaches, waterways, underwater areas and highways.

In addition to polluting beaches, plastic pieces, such as cigarette butts (cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic) and styrofoam from fast food packaging, packing materials, and disposable beverage containers, can pose a health hazard to animals. Marine animals can mistake trash as food. If plastic blocks their digestive track, animals may become ill or even starve. Animals can also become entangled in trash, which restricts their ability to eat, breath and swim, often with fatal results.

California Coastal Cleanup Day ’99 will be held on Saturday, September 18.

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