Citing plastic pollution, state Dems would ban cigarette filters

Cigarette butts and plastic polluting a beach

Cigarette butts with other plastic debris on a bluff in Solana Beach, Calif. on Oct. 17, 2003. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Recycling efforts increased in the last decade, but so has the use of single-serve plastics. The Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Act, introduced by Democratic state lawmakers on Thursday, prohibits selling cigarettes with single-use filters as another kind of plastic pollutant.

“Cigarette butts are everywhere—littering our streets, our parks, and our waterways, and spreading plastic pollution and toxic chemicals into our environment and our food supply,” said Manhattan Sen. Liz Krueger, a cosponsor of the bill.

The measure combats smoking by appealing to environmental concerns instead of healthcare issues. Single-use plastics and packaging, meant for convenience, are particularly difficult to keep track of, dispose of, and recycle properly.

The Tobacco Waste Reduction Act blocks the sale of cigarettes with single-use filters, attachable single-use filters, and single-use electronic cigarettes. Legislators argue that filters do not make cigarettes safer, that butts despoil the environment, and that spent disposable e-cigarettes contain dangerous liquid nicotine and lithium-ion batteries that consumers should recycle.

Prohibitions on cigarette filters would join the list of bills throughout the state aiming at plastics, including bans on polystyrene and plastic straws, opt-in requirements for delivery and take-out utensils, reusable container mandates, and orders for new studies on safe alternatives to plastics.

From March 1, New York bans many single-use plastic shopping bags to protect waterways, create cleaner streets and parks, and prevent clogs in recycling systems. An optional $.05 fee on paper bags included in Gov. Cuomo’s bill also lowers demand on factories or tree farms that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Still, Cuomo’s legislation exempts major offenders—bags from restaurants, delis, and dry cleaners, plus bags sold in bulk, like garbage and recycling bags—while ignoring cigarette butts, utensils, bottles, cups, and to-go containers. Clean Water Action says almost half of all litter in the ocean comes from take-out, and that we could eliminate nearly one-third of collected trash by switching to reusables.

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