By Aziza Atieno

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a partnership with the Secretariat of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to raise awareness and drive action on the extensive environmental and human health impacts of microplastics in cigarette filter through its Clean Seas campaign.

The approach is to adopt a political advocacy angle and have an extensive social media campaign with the aim of engaging influencers, UNEP’s Goodwill Ambassadors and Young Champions of the Earth to raise awareness of the issues surrounding microplastics, a UNEP statement reads.

Cigarette butts are dangerous pieces of plastic which are usually not handled properly. Discarded cigarette butts may be carried into rivers and lakes, and finally into the ocean.

Additionally, toxic substances, such as nicotine and carcinogenic tar, have strong toxic effect, which will cause serious damage to aquatic organisms.

“The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC has the technical expertise of the impact of tobacco products on not just human health but also on environment,” said Atif Butt, UNEP’s Chief of Public Advocacy.

“By joining UNEP’s and the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC’s expertise together under the Clean Seas activation on microplastics, we aim to highlight how our health is intrinsically linked to that of our planet.”

According to National Library of Medicine, one cigarette butt consist of more than 15,000 detachable strands of plastic fiber will continuously release microplastic fibers into the environment. About 300,000 tons of potential microplastic fibers may enter the aquatic environment from this source per annum.

The report bases its estimates that the tobacco industry produces six trillion cigarettes that are consumed by one billion smokers worldwide, cigarette butts are the most discarded waste item worldwide, accounting for approximately 766.6 million kilograms of toxic trash each year. They are also the most common plastic litter on beaches, making marine ecosystems more susceptible to microplastic leakages.

By highlighting a recent European Union directive requiring all tobacco products with plastic filters to be labelled clearly, the initiative will encourage citizens to advocate for similar changes globally, the statement adds.