The New York Times checked in this weekend on the nationwide movement to address cigarette litter.

That’s manifested locally with the city’s 2006 ban on smoking on beaches and at parks. San Francisco is now proposing a 33-cent-per-pack tax to cover the cost of cigarette litter cleanups, the Times reports.

The Times turns to a San Diego State professor for some insight about the litter’s effect on the environment:

For many environmentalists, the problem is not just the litter, but the toxicity. Thomas Novotny, a professor of global health at San Diego State University who supports the San Francisco proposal and beach bans elsewhere, said recent experiments had shown that one butt has enough poisons to kill half the minnows in a liter of water — a standard laboratory test for toxins — in 96 hours.

“Butts are full of poisonous substances, including nicotine, which is a pesticide,” Professor Novotny said.

I talked recently with Rick Gersberg, a public health professor at San Diego State, who did the experiment the story cites.

Gersberg said it was the first experiment of its type to consider impacts on fish. Previous filter toxicity tests had used water fleas — not exactly a good poster child.

Even putting five to 10 unsmoked butts in a liter of water proved toxic to fish, Gersberg said.

The impact on the environment isn’t clear, though. Gersberg said the open ocean was likely too large to register the impacts. Lakes or ponds possibly could, he said.

“I don’t have an immediate sense that it’s causing a problem,” he said.


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