No Buts About It! Study Finds Used Cigarette Butts Emit Toxins
According to a recent study published by Indoor Air, used cigarette butts can emit an equivalent of up to 14% of nicotine given off by smoking cigarettes, even when they are cold to the touch.
According to researchers, when extinguished cigarettes, dubbed as “butt emissions” or “after smoke”, are disposed of indoors or outdoors, human exposure to the same chemicals produced while they are burning may be prolonged.
The study was led by Dustin Poppendieck, Ph.D., MD at the engineering lab of NIST (the National Institute of Standards & Technology) in Gaithersburg (author of the study published by Indoor Air on January 18, 2020).
A great deal of research has gone into understanding exactly how cigarette smoking affects the health of smokers, second-hand smokers, and third-hand human exposure from chemical residues that remain on surfaces such as walls, upholstery, clothing, and hair after a cigarette has been extinguished, all three of which can increase the risk of cancer and other serious medical conditions.
Dentists and hygienists are in a unique position to educate smokers about the dangers of tobacco use and cessation programs. Organizations like the ADA recommend that dentists talk to their patients about the prevention of tobacco use and to regularly screen smokers for possible oral and oropharyngeal cancers.
Smokers around the world discard about 5 trillion butts every year.
Approximately 75% of smokers admit to improper disposal by indiscriminately tossing them outdoors on more than one occasion. Until recently little attention has been given to the role that disposed-of cigarettes play in human exposure to harmful chemicals.
This NIST study, performed under an interagency agreement with the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), was aimed at quantifying the emissions produced by extinguished cigarettes.
In conducting the study, researchers used a smoking machine to light up approximately 2,100 cigarettes. Robotic movements were performed by the machine to simulate the actions of smokers when they light up. Air was moved through the cigarettes to emulate the behavior of actual smokers in order to remove some of the potential variants from the study. The extinguished cigarette butts were then placed in a stainless steel, walk-in chamber in order to characterize the airborne emissions.
Emission rates were determined by measuring the concentrations in the butts of some of the most common chemicals found in cigarettes such as styrene, naphthalene, 2-methyl-2-cyclopentene-1-one, nicotine, and triacetin.
The Role of Extinguished Cigarettes in Exposure to Chemicals
It was found that the amount of nicotine emitted from a cigarette butt at 77° F (25° C) at the 24-hour point was about 14% of the amount of nicotine emitted by a burning cigarette. After 100 hours, the concentrations of nicotine and triacetin were about 50% of burning cigarettes. It was found that other chemical concentrations decayed to less than 10% within 24 hours.
The researchers noted that the amount of nicotine emitted from a cigarette butt over a 7-day period was comparable to the amount from a burning cigarette while smoking as well as second and third-hand smoking.
Although the findings from the study were certainly eye-opening, there were certain limitations, including the use of cigarettes from different batches that limited the ability to compare emission rates at 25° C (77° F) and 30° C (86° F).
The authors concluded that further research is needed in order to examine the variation of emissions from butts produced by different cigarette batches and to gain a better understanding of how people are affected by these airborne emissions.
“Public health officials, risk assessors, and exposure scientists should be more mindful of exposure related to indoor airborne emissions from cigarette butts”, wrote the authors.
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