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Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish
  1. Elli Slaughter1,2,
  2. Richard M Gersberg2,
  3. Kayo Watanabe2,
  4. John Rudolph3,
  5. Chris Stransky3,
  6. Thomas E Novotny2
  1. 1San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA
  2. 2Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA
  3. 3Nautilus Environmental, San Diego, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Ms Elli Slaughter, San Diego State University, 500 W Harbor Drive #134, San Diego, CA 92101, USA; ellislaughter{at}


Background Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter, as an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are thrown away every year worldwide. Many chemical products are used during the course of growing tobacco and manufacturing cigarettes, the residues of which may be found in cigarettes prepared for consumption. Additionally, over 4000 chemicals may also be introduced to the environment via cigarette particulate matter (tar) and mainstream smoke.

Methods Using US Environmental Protection Agency standard acute fish bioassays, cigarette butt-derived leachate was analysed for aquatic toxicity. Survival was the single endpoint and data were analysed using Comprehensive Environmental Toxicity Information System to identify the LC50 of cigarette butt leachate to fish.

Results The LC50 for leachate from smoked cigarette butts (smoked filter + tobacco) was approximately one cigarette butt/l for both the marine topsmelt (Atherinops affinis) and the freshwater fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas). Leachate from smoked cigarette filters (no tobacco), was less toxic, with LC50 values of 1.8 and 4.3 cigarette butts/l, respectively for both fish species. Unsmoked cigarette filters (no tobacco) were also found to be toxic, with LC50 values of 5.1 and 13.5 cigarette butts/l, respectively, for both fish species.

Conclusion Toxicity of cigarette butt leachate was found to increase from unsmoked cigarette filters (no tobacco) to smoked cigarette filters (no tobacco) to smoked cigarette butts (smoked filter + tobacco). This study represents the first in the literature to investigate and affirm the toxicity of cigarette butts to fish, and will assist in assessing the potential ecological risks of cigarette butts to the aquatic environment.

  • Topsmelt (Atherinops affinis)
  • fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas)
  • cigarette butts
  • aquatic toxicity
  • environment
  • toxicology

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  • Funding This research was supported by a University of California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program IDEA Grant, No 17IT-0014.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.