Paving the way for an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution and cigarette butts


On 2 March 2022, 175 countries of the United Nations Environment Council (UNEA) adopted a resolution to negotiate an international legally binding agreement to “end plastic pollution” by the end of 2024. The UNEA resolution 5/14 mandated an Open Working Group to carry out preparatory work ahead of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) negotiations. The first session of the INC aims to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The session currently takes place (from 28 November to 2 December) in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

6 trillion cigarette filters are produced and consumed annually, which have a significant environmental and health impact.


The environmental impact

These filters consist of cellulose acetate and break down into microplastics that are released into the (aquatic) environment. In addition to plastic, cigarette butts contain toxic substances, including arsenic, heavy metals, zinc and copper, which also end up in the environment. Cigarette filters form the largest fraction of litter in the world (WHO, 2017), and therefore represent a major environmental problem. The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day 2022 (who.int) was “Tobacco, poisoning our planet” for a good reason.

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The health impact

In addition, the vast majority of independent research suggests that filters do not reduce the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, contrary to popular belief. In the 1950s, it became clear that smoking causes lung cancer. The tobacco industry then developed the cellulose acetate filter and promoted the filter as a means of reducing the health risks associated with smoking. Smokers embraced the filter cigarette and today, the market share of filter cigarettes far exceeds that of unfiltered cigarettes. Filters can actually amplify the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, as the filter affects the burning conditions of the tobacco, increasing certain carcinogenic substances (so-called tobacco-specific nitrosamines). These substances can cause a certain type of lung cancer (adenocarcinoma). Smokers may also inhale deeper because of the filter. Toxic fibers from the cut end of the filter can also be inhaled and swallowed by smokers.

Moreover, the recent ‘rigged cigarette’ ruling by the Rotterdam District Court indicates unequivocally that filters do not make smoking ‘healthier’ and are a marketing tool of the tobacco industry. Filter cigarettes are more harmful and addictive than the tobacco industry pretends, as smokers ingest far more poison and nicotine than is found in official measurements. This is because cigarette filters have tiny holes through which, in official measurements, air is drawn, diluting the toxins. Smokers cover these holes with their mouths and fingers, which means that in practice this dilution is omitted: NVWA moet handhavend optreden tegen verkoop filtersigaretten (rechtspraak.nl)


As a partner of the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance | GGTC, the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention asks you to support the following in the context of this treaty: 

  1. The tobacco industry should be excluded from policy development and not, in line with Art. 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) be treated as a regular stakeholder
  2. Introduction to the convention of a filter ban
  3. Based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, making tobacco products financially responsible for the damage caused

Additional resources can be found down below:

World No Tobacco Day 2024

The Member States of the World Health Organization created World No Tobacco Day in 1987 to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease...

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Joint Press Release: European Societies call for an EU Endgame on Tobacco

30 May, Brussels – Ahead of World No Tobacco Day 2024, European scientific, healthcare professional and other civil society organisations call for an EU Endgame on Tobacco.  Noting the official...

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Global Youths’ Declaration Takes Aim at Tobacco Industry Accountability

Global Youth Voices, a movement of youth-led organizations representing over a million of youth worldwide, has come together on a groundbreaking declaration to hold the tobacco industry accountable and...

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