Quit Smoking for your Health and the Planet

Quit Smoking for your Health and the Planet

Quit smoking for your health and the planet

A new year often leads us to make resolutions, and for many people, it’s to quit smoking. We know how harmful smoking is to our health, but what about the harm it causes to the planet? Around 10 million people in the UK smoke, and the average smoker smokes 12-14 cigarettes per day. That works out at a total of around 120 million cigarettes smoked every single day.

Smoking-related litter is one of the most common types of litter to found on Britain’s streets. An environmental survey found that smoking-related litter was present in 70% of the sites that were analysed. Cigarette ends, matchsticks and cigarette packets can be found in over 90% of streets in UK city centres.

What’s in a cigarette?

Cigarette filters are one of the most troublesome items of smoking-related litter. The filter is made from a plastic called cellulose acetate, which is slow to degrade. It can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years for a filter to decompose. Filters are full of toxins, tar and other chemicals which find their way into the ground and our waterways.

Problems caused by smoking-related litter

Cigarette filters can be eaten by wildlife, who mistake them for food.

Toxins from cigarette butts can get into waterways.

Discarded cigarettes can cause fires in forests, which are a threat to wildlife and vegetation.

What has been done?


The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 in England and Wales imposed a fixed £75 fine for anyone caught dropping litter.

A smoking ban came into force in July 2007, which applied to all enclosed public places.

Cigarette bins

The smoking ban brought with it some of its own problems. Smokers congregating in outside shelters often just dump their cigarette butts on the ground, which makes for an unsightly mess. The provision of cigarette bins has given smokers a safe and environmentally friendly way to dispose of their cigarettes.  

Local solutions


The London borough of Wandsworth is part of a pilot scheme to tackle smoking-related litter and improve the health of local people. Anyone caught dropping smoking-related litter will be offered a £30 shopping voucher if they complete a smoking cessation course and manage to quit successfully. 

As part of the scheme, ashtrays promoting the stop smoking services will be given out, litter awareness exercises will be held across the borough, and waste enforcement staff will be trained on how to promote the local stop smoking schemes.

Local businesses will be asked to promote local stop smoking services and to encourage employees not to drop cigarette litter.       

The council decided to run the pilot scheme to combat litter which costs tax payers nearly £4m per year. The council leads the Tobacco Control Alliance, which is a multi-agency organisation aimed at helping people to quit smoking. Since 2010, over 6,500 smokers have been supported to quit.