Protect the environment - World No Tobacco Day 2022


Each year 31 May is World No Tobacco Day. This year the World Health Organisation launched its 'Tobacco: Threat to our environment' campaign.

We all know about the devastating health impacts of cigarettes and e-cigarettes (vapes), but what about the environment? The environmental effects of cigarettes and e-cigarettes will give users one more good reason to quit.

Cigarette butts – the most littered item on the planet

Every year it is estimated that 1.32 billion cigarette butts are littered in NSW, consistently making it the most littered item in the state.[1] Of the 24 billion cigarettes sold in Australia each year, 8 billion are littered. If the littered cigarettes in Australia were put together, this would wrap around the earth 6.5 times.[2]

Leading environment groups such as Clean up Australia and local councils spend significant resources on cleaning up butt litter. In the City of Sydney alone, around 15,000 cigarette butts are cleaned from the streets every day.[3]

A common misconception is that cigarette butts are biodegradable. Cigarette butts contain a form of plastic called cellulose acetate, that takes years to breakdown into smaller pieces and will still persist in the environment. When thrown into our environment, they not only carry plastic but also nicotine, heavy metals and other harmful chemicals contained in cigarettes.

Cigarette butt litter contaminates our soil, streams, rivers and oceans. The chemicals and waste in butt litter has been proven to significantly stunt plant growth[4]. Research has demonstrated that even small quantities of cigarette butts in our waterways can be deadly to marine life.[5] The toxicity to the environment can remain five years after being disposed.[6]

What about e-cigarettes?

The rapid rise of e-cigarette use over recent years has made the pollution issue worse. An e-cigarette, also commonly known as a vape, is a device that heats a flavoured liquid (typically containing nicotine, flavourings, heavy metals and chemicals) to an aerosol that can be inhaled. Many e-cigarettes are pod based, where the cartridges are single use plastic. The use of single use disposable e-cigarettes has skyrocketed, especially among young people.

E-cigarettes, especially disposable ones, are increasingly being littered into the environment. E-cigarettes could pose an even bigger threat to our environment for three reasons:

1. Disposable e-cigarettes and cartridges are made of single use plastiic.
2. Vapes produce electronic waste as they contain lithium-ion batteries and a heating element.
3. They introduce hazardous and toxic chemicals like nicotine into the environment when used and discarded.

When e-cigarettes are littered into the environment, they pose similar threats to the environment as cigarettes. They can also be choking hazards if eaten by animals - and they can puncture, explode, or burn. Birds can be attracted to colourful and shiny items, and have been observed chewing on e-cigarettes. This could be toxic and potentially deadly due to the battery and chemicals. [8]

E-cigarettes cannot be recycled given the e-waste and biohazard waste. There are currently no methods for appropriate disposal of e-cigarettes.

So what is being done?

Local councils, state governments, federal government and non-for-profit organisations are all acting to tackle the problem.

The NSW Government Cigarette Butt Litter Prevention Program aims to reduce cigarette butt littering via a grants program, behaviour change campaign and guidelines and resources for stakeholders to tackle local cigarette butt litter hotspots.[1]

The sale of any tobacco or e-cigarette products to people under the age of 18 is illegal in NSW. The sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine is illegal in NSW without a prescription from a doctor.

What can you do?

If you smoke or vape, think about quitting today. Positive changes can start within days of you quitting.

Get help quitting

Quitline counsellors are available to answer any questions you may have about e-cigarettes on 13 7848 (13 QUIT). They can also help you think of ways to approach a conversation with your child or loved one about vaping.

The Aboriginal Quitline is also available on 13 7848. Run by Aboriginal Advisors, the Aboriginal Quitline is a telephone-based confidential advice and support service.

For people who are attempting to quit tobacco, using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as lozenges, gums, nasal sprays and patches, are safer and are proven to help you quit. The NSW Cancer Institute iCanQuit website provides information on quitting methods, links to support groups and top tips to help you quit.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm.



  1. NSW Environment Protection Authority. 2021. Reducing cigarette butt litter. NSW EPA. Available at:
  2. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. 2021. National Plastics Plan 2021. Available at:
  3. Donegan J. 2014. Dropped cigarette butts used to create 'yuk' installation to encourage smokers to butt-out in bins. ABC, 2014. Available at:
  4. Green, D. S., Boots, B., Carvalho, J. D. S., & Starkey, T. 2019. Cigarette butts have adverse effects on initial growth of perennial ryegrass (gramineae: Lolium perenne L.) and white clover (leguminosae: Trifolium repens L.). Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety182, 109418
  5. Slaughter, E., Gersberg, R.M., Watanabe, K., Rudolph, J., Stransky, C. and Novotny, T.E., 2011. Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish. Tobacco control20(Suppl 1), pp.i25-i29.
  6. Bonanomi, G., Maisto, G., De Marco, A., Cesarano, G., Zotti, M., Mazzei, P., Libralato, G., Staropoli, A., Siciliano, A., De Filippis, F. and La Storia, A., 2020. The fate of cigarette butts in different environments: decay rate, chemical changes and ecotoxicity revealed by a 5-years decomposition experiment. Environmental Pollution261, p.114108
  7. Central Coast Local Health District NSW Health Promotion Service. 2021. Say No to Vaping. Available at:
  8. Hogan, K. 2022. Who's a bad boy? Polly wants a vape. Telegragh. 09 Mar 2022.

Your Room > What's New > Protect the environment - World No Tobacco Day 2022