A critical review of the issue of cigarette butt pollution in coastal environments

Environ Res. 2019 May;172:137-149. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.02.005. Epub 2019 Feb 4.


Beach anthropogenic litter is a worldwide problem and has been discussed in the specialized literature for decades. Cigarette butts (CB) are the most frequent form of personal item found on beaches. Yearly, 6 trillion cigarettes are smoked worldwide, and 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered in the environment. The objective of our review was to assess the relevant literature on the issue of CB in costal environments, including urban areas. We compile and discuss studies (1998-2018) of CB sources for coastal environments, composition/degradability, quantification on beaches, toxicity to aquatic organisms and existing strategies to abate the problem. The literature shows that despite the growing interest in marine litter, this specific issue remains little studied and information is limited in time and space. Studies have been undertaken on islands, continental coasts, estuaries and coastal cities. There area wide variety of approaches to classification; for example, CB are considered plastic in 19% of studies and placed in an isolated category in another 16%. It was possible to identify the main sources of CB in coastal environments and access to the marine biota. In conclusion, we list and discuss proposals for reducing smoking, littering and marine pollution as a contribution to reduce the problems caused by CB in coastal and marine environments. CAPSULE: Cigarette butts are a pervasive, toxic and recalcitrant type of marine litter that requires urgent attention from manufacturers, users, authorities and the public to prevent the ingestion of cigarette butts by biota and water pollution from its leachate.

Keywords: Anthropogenic litter; Beach pollution; Marine debris; Smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / drug effects
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Tobacco Products* / statistics & numerical data
  • Tobacco Products* / toxicity
  • Waste Products / statistics & numerical data


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Waste Products