The harmful effects of tobacco use are well known – and now a group of community-spirited children have highlighted how they can be bad for the health of the planet too.
Discarded cigarettes are causing such damage to the waters of the emirate that 120 pupils from Kings’ School Dubai decided to take action by launching a clean-up of Umm Sequim Beach.
The Year Five and Six students teamed up with the Dubai marine conservation group Azraq, as well as Dubai Municipality, to collect a staggering 26kg of cigarette butts.
Experts have warned that the damage being caused to local waters by cigarette butts was on a par with the impact of plastic pollution.
“Most people do not realise that the filters in cigarette butts are made from a type of plastic called cellulose acetate that takes around 30 years to break up,” said Natalie Banks, managing director of Azraq.
“Not only are cigarette butts unpleasant aesthetically, they are comprised of thousands of chemical ingredients, including arsenic, lead, nicotine and ethylphenol.
“All of these leak into aquatic environments, impacting the quality of water and the marine life.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarettes are discarded on land and coastlines each day across the world.
The cigarettes do not just cause a litter problem as a significant number of that 4.5 trillion ended up in oceans and shores.
The situation intensifies as the cigarettes release toxins into the water such as nicotine, arsenic and lead which then end up being consumed by marine life – before ending up in our own food.
“Stubbing out cigarette butts on the ground is still considered socially acceptable, despite it being littering and we urge smokers to dispose of their cigarettes responsibly,” said Ms Banks.
The pupils from Kings’ School spent two days, earlier this month, taking part in the clean-up of Umm Sequim beach in Dubai.
They collected a total of 58kg of litter, 26kg of which were discarded cigarette butts.
An official from Dubai Municipality told The National they were very much aware of the problems caused by cigarette butts being strewn across beaches in the emirate.
“It is illegal for someone to litter by throwing away cigarette butts but to fine them we have to see them and catch them in the act,” said beach inspector Mamoun Idriss.
“Cigarette butts cause serious harm to the environment, people do not realise just how dangerous they are.”
He said that anybody caught throwing away cigarette butts could face a fine of Dh500.
“It is an offence to litter, maybe people think it’s okay to do it with cigarette butts but that is wrong,” he said.
“Realistically we cannot stop people from smoking but they must show consideration, not just for the environment but also for other beach users.”
“The children were eager to help tidy up the beach because they are passionate about the impact of debris in the ocean,” said Emily Leggite, community and social responsibility leader at Kings’ School Dubai.
“They were horrified by the number of cigarettes that were thrown away by people who had been smoking on the beach.”
Ms Leggite said the exercise allowed the pupils to experience the challenges that Dubai Municipality and marine conservation agencies face when keeping local coastlines free from damage.
“People are already aware of the pollution that is caused by debris in the oceans but they never stop to think about the damage caused when they throw away cigarette butts,” she said.
The problem was even more galling for environmentalists who pointed to a report, issued last year, by the World Health Organisation that suggested that the filters at the bottom of cigarettes serve no actual purpose.
According to the report, cigarette filters were created in the 1950s to provide a healthier alternative to unfiltered cigarettes.
“As we now know, claims that filtered cigarettes were ‘healthier’ were fraudulent,” read the report.
Updated: April 18, 2019 12:37 PM