Apart from sunshine and warm ocean waters, Lee County's sandy beaches and surrounding coastal environment have one thing in common: Cigarette litter.
With Earth Day just passed, Tobacco Free Lee and Tobacco Free Florida want to educate the public about the impact that cigarette litter has on one of the community's greatest natural attractions.
Improperly discarding cigarettes while at the beach or out on the water is a serious concern according to Tobacco Free Florida. However, the issue remains even when you step off the sand and head to the mainland. Cigarette litter is carried as runoff from streets to drains, and ultimately to the oceans and its beaches. A study by Keep America Beautiful showed that only 10 percent of cigarette butts are properly deposited in ash receptacles.
The same study showed cigarette filters are the single most collected item in beach cleanups around the world each year. An estimated 1.69 billion pounds, or 845,000 tons, of cigarette butts accumulate as litter on beaches, in oceans, lakes and on the rest of the planet annually.
Not only does cigarette litter impact the natural environments, it contaminates and harms the ecosystems within those environments. Cigarette filters have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures that mistake them for food, swallowing poisonous filters, harmful plastic and toxic chemicals. According to the UN International Maritime Organization, 177 species of marine animals and 111 species of shorebirds are affected by tobacco litter, causing unnecessary malnutrition, starvation and death.
Properly discarding cigarettes and cigarette butts is crucial to protect the environment from harmful cigarette litter. Another way to help safeguard the environment is to take the right steps to quit smoking or to help someone quit.
Tobacco Free Florida offers a number of free and convenient resources to help Floridians quit tobacco. Call the Florida Quitline at 1-877-U-CAN-NOW to speak with a Quit Coach to help assess your addiction and help create a personalized quit plan. Enroll in the Web Coach, which will help create a personalized web-based quit plan, visit www.quitnow.net/florida. Sign up for Quit Smoking Now group classes at the local Area Health Education Center (AHEC) by calling 989-9809.
For more information on this initiative or Tobacco Free Lee, contact Brendan Donohue at 332-9561.