The discarded plastic parts with brown paper coating unfortunately do not dissolve in air like cigarette smoke. When smoking, nicotine, arsenic, lead and many other chemicals accumulate in the filters. When such a stump lies on the ground and it rains, these substances seep with the rainwater into the ground, into nature or into the sewage system. Since nicotine, the nerve poison, is very soluble in water, two to six milligrams of nicotine seep into rainwater within 30 seconds, even with a stub.
According to the German Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), even a single discarded cigarette butt poisons an estimated 40 litres of groundwater. Many smokers are unaware of this.
However, nicotine itself is not the problem, because it can be eliminated up to 90% from sewage treatment plants. More problematic are all the toxins that arise during the combustion process during smoking and seep untreated into the soil.
When cigarette butts land on the ground or even in water, they land sooner or later in the sea. According to 20min, researchers discovered cigarette filter residues in 70% of all seabirds studied. The sea turtle rate was 30%.
Like all plastics, filters decompose over time into microplastics. (Microplastics are solid and insoluble synthetic polymers, i.e. plastics that are smaller than five millimetres). Opinions differ as to how long this will take. While the cigarette industry talks about a few months to three years, various studies say that it takes 10 to 15 years in fresh water and even significantly longer in salt water.
The simplest and most effective solution would be if the tobacco industry were aware of the disaster and used new filters without cellulose acetate, i.e. chemicals, and instead used cellulose eco-filters to make cigarettes. But smokers can also make a difference by stopping smoking or disposing of the filters in garbage or ashtrays. The WHO is already advocating measures to ensure that the tobacco industry pays for the responsibility and disposal of cigarettes.