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Protect the Earth – and your health, while you’re at it
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahomans join people around the world every year on April 22 to celebrate Earth Day, a day dedicated to protect our natural environments on land, water and in the air.
When it comes to keeping the Earth and our local communities clean, a great way to pitch in is to “butt out.” Multiple studies show that cigarette butts are the single most littered items along U.S. roads, according to the Legacy Foundation.
Oklahoma is no exception. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) says cigarette litter is the most often cited cause of litter on the roadways. The Litter Hotline at 1-888-5-Litter (1-888-554-8837), reports that the largest majority of calls are tobacco related at nearly 75 percent. Cleaning litter costs the state millions of dollars each year; ODOT alone spends about $4 million annually on highway litter cleanup.
Another national survey found butts to be the most commonly littered items at several types of sites away from roadways, including retail areas, storm drains and recreational areas.
“Through the tobacco industry’s efforts, our society has accommodated cigarettes and smoking in most aspects of our lives,” said Tracey Strader, executive director of Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. “We’ve seen the harmful effects of tobacco use on those who use the products, those who breathe in secondhand smoke and now on the environment. We need to take these impacts seriously, and more Oklahomans are doing so.”
Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) teams across Oklahoma, take action each year by picking up hundreds of pounds of tobacco litter in community parks. Many of these teams show their results to city councils to call attention to tobacco litter.
“We all want our communities to be at their best and SWAT youth are in the lead, making sure our parks are healthy places to play,” said Strader. “Tobacco litter in parks where our children play, along the roadway, in our neighborhoods and outside businesses isn’t the picture we want to present.”
Cigarette litter is not just unsightly, it also harms the environment. Cigarette butts and filters take months or even years to biodegrade, allowing even more time to release toxic chemicals that contaminate the soil and water and kill animals.
Meanwhile, tobacco smoke pollutes the air. Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, including about 70 that can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart disease for nonsmokers by 30 percent. It also can cause sudden infant death syndrome, as well as cause earaches and trigger asthma in children.
It is important to be mindful, on Earth Day and every day, of how and where cigarette butts are discarded. And given the considerable risks for heart disease, cancer and stroke caused by tobacco use, it’s also a good time to consider quitting for good, or to help a loved one quit.
The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline provides one-on-one coaching over the telephone to go with nicotine replacement gum, lozenges or patches, all of which is free. To register, call 1-800-QUITNOW (784-8669) or visit www.OKhelpline.com.
The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) serves as a partner and bridge builder for organizations working toward shaping a healthier future for all Oklahomans. TSET provides leadership at the intersections of health by working with local coalitions and initiatives across the state, by cultivating innovative and life-changing researcher, and by working across public and private sectors to develop, support, implement and evaluate creative strategies to take advantage of emerging opportunities to improve the public’s health. TSET – Better Lives Through Better Health. For more information visit www.tset.ok.gov.