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Plastics treaty negotiations hears about toxic cigarette filters

8 December 2022

The recently concluded negotiations on a new global plastics treaty heard how this treaty should address cigarettes filters and must hold the tobacco industry accountable for the harm their product inflicts on the environment.

Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic, and are toxic. Every year, about 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded into the environment globally and reported are one of the most littered items on the planet. However, tobacco companies have never taken responsibility for all the harms caused to health and the environment.

In March this year, 175 countries approved a United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) Resolution to negotiate an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution by the end of 2024.

Between 28 November-2 December, during the first session of the inter-governmental committee (INC-1) meeting on the plastics treaty in Punta del Este, tobacco control and environmental advocates highlighted the need for governments to address conflict of interest of polluters being present in the negotiations deciding on regulation of pollutions.

NGOs at the negotiations observed that the industries that caused the plastic pollution problem in the first place were given the same platform as civil society groups cleaning up the pollution and trying to stop them. ASH-US pointed out the danger of listening to the perpetrators of the problem, citing the tobacco industry as the prime historical example.

NGOs called for a ban on cigarette filters, highlighting this as an unnecessary use of plastic, and this was noticed and acknowledged in the negotiations. The importance of the polluter pay principle was also raised during the negotiations.

ASEAN members states (except Myanmar) participated in INC-1 actively making interventions. However, they made no reference to pollution caused by cigarette butt litter. This problem will cost the ASEAN around USD 5.7 billion a year to offset the pollution and waste of more than 550 billion butts discarded in the environment (Table 1).

Table 1: Cigarette butt litter – cost on the environment and marine life for the ASEAN*


Cigarette butts discarded

Cost on marine pollution and waste management (US$)

Brunei 3 million $41,600 (BND 56,672)
Cambodia 7 billion $26m (KHR 413 billion)
Indonesia 316 billion $3.1b (IDR 49 trillion)
Lao PDR 5 billion $34m (LAK 593 billion)
Malaysia 10 billion $123m (MYR 541 million)
Myanmar 8 billion $75m (MMK 158 billion)
Philippines 79 billion $882m (PHP 49 billion)
Singapore 2 billion $36.8 m (SGD 50 million)
Thailand 47 billion $514m (THB 18 billion)
Vietnam 76 billion $921m (VND 22 trillion)

550 billion

US$5.7 billion

*Not the latest figures

On the final day of the negotiations, ASH reminded delegates, “In efforts to solve global problems it is no coincidence that allowing the involvement of those who have caused them has led to failure. The United Nations has adopted a Common Set of Exclusionary Criteria as part of its Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This mechanism could be extremely helpful in creating deliberations free from conflict of interest and misinformation.”

Advocates from Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance at the INC-1 negotiations in Punta del Este Mary Assunta’s intervention at the Multi-Stakeholders Meeting called for a ban on cigarette filters and applying WHO FCTC Article 5.3 to protect policies

Over 40 countries have adopted laws or national plans on dealing with marine plastic pollution, while over 90 governments are implementing a national ban on single use plastics. However, only a

handful of countries have addressed cigarette filters in these policies and plans. It is time to ban cigarette filters and make the tobacco industry pay for the harm toxic plastics in cigarette butts cause the environment.

high ambition coalition, comprising of 45 countries, want to end plastic pollution by 2040. Their aims include:

  • Eliminate problematic plastics, including by bans and restrictions.
  • Develop global sustainability criteria and standards for plastics
  • Ensure transparency in the value chain of plastics, including for material and chemical composition.

The second negotiations (INC-2) will take place in May 2023. Till then, it is important to keep exposing the tobacco industry’s scam of using toxic filters in cigarettes that harm smokers and that they don’t clean-up nor compensate for the harm the butts cause the environment. People suffer the consequences. Globally about 8 million people die from tobacco related diseases annually.

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