In a freshly-opened pack of cigarettes, the cancer-causing vessels look neatly organized. So often, though, they're not in formation. They're half-smoked and smouldering, discarded carelessly on the ground -- on sidewalks where you walk and in places where your children play. They seem to be everywhere but where they're supposed to be -- an ashtray.
Good Morning Show viewer Ross Carter submitted this question for us to VERIFY:
"Here's a question to explore: Why do smokers feel they have special permission to litter -- flicking their butts onto the ground? Cig butts take about 15 yrs to decompose. Just look around...they're everywhere! Talk to an expert about how long they really take to decompose and what different cities' littering laws are."
To VERIFY, we looked into the NC Littering Statute -- 14-399 -- under the NCDOT Roadside Environmental Unit. We also looked into a cigarette waste study published in the National Institutes of Health.
Most data suggests cigarette butts take between 18 months to 10 years to dissolve, depending on weather conditions. They're one of the most commonly-littered items across the world. The Ocean Conservancy says cigarette butts are the most common litter found on America's beaches.
The National Institute of Health study explains in the 1950s, scientific evidence started proving cigarettes caused lung cancer and other serious diseases. That's why cigarette companies added filters. The problem? Filters contain cellulose acetate, which is not bio-degradable. Even if nature breaks down the physical cigarette butt, the material from it never goes away. It gets diluted in water and soil.
The North Carolina anti-litter law states if you litter, you can get an infraction, fine and/or community service hours. The City of Greensboro does not have any additional language on the books for cigarettes but says cigarettes are considered part of the litter law.
For 28 years, the City of Winston-Salem has had a campaign called "Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful." Part of that is the program called "Every Butt Hurts." The City gives away free pocket ashtrays and cup holders to prevent cigarette litter. You can get one by contacting Winston-Salem City Link.
In conclusion, we verified yes, cigarette butts take a long time to dissolve, and even then, chemicals get into soil and water. The North Carolina littering law includes cigarette butts, and you can get in trouble and have to pay up if caught littering.