Cigarette butts still emit harmful chemicals for at least a week after they are emitted, experts have discovered.
Researchers warn that ‘after smoke’ can harm health because of the ‘significant’ level of nicotine in the air from cigarette butts.
Most chemicals are emitted from the cigarette butt 24 hours after the fire has been extinguished.
But five days later, tests showed that concentrations of both nicotine and triacetin – a plasticizer in cigarette filters – were only halved.
The amount of nicotine released from an old butt for seven days was comparable to that emitted by burning one cigarette, the team found.
Researchers in Maryland, USA, suggested that people should think twice about leaving cigarette butts in their car or around the house.
Scientists discovered that ‘after smoke’ could affect human health due to a shock level of nicotine in the air from cigarette butts
“I was absolutely surprised,” said environmental engineer Dr. Dustin Poppendieck of the American National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who conducted the study.
“The figures are substantial and can have important consequences if cigarette butts are removed indoors or in cars.”
Smoking in cars with an under 18 has been banned in the UK since 2015, with a £ 50 fine.
It is also illegal in some states and cities of America, including California, Indiana, Kansas and Illinois.
But according to the latest study, the rules may not be sufficient to protect the health of young people against the effects of smokers.
“You might think that by never smoking in your car when children are present you are protecting the non-smokers or children around you,” Dr. said. Poppendieck.
“But if the ashtray in your hot car is full of butts that emit these chemicals, exposure will happen.”
The investigation involved placing 2,100 recently extinguished cigarettes in a stainless steel walk-in room.
Dr. Poppendieck and colleagues have measured eight chemicals that are usually emitted by cigarettes. These include furfural, styrene and naphthalene.
In the first 24 hours, the team discovered that every cigarette butt emits nearly 15 percent of the nicotine emitted by a burning cigarette.
The team also changed the temperature and humidity in the room to see how emissions changed under different conditions.
And they created conditions in which cigarette butts were soaked in water outside, to replicate when butts were left out in the rain.
The study involved placing 2100 recently extinguished cigarettes in a walk-in room made of stainless steel (photo right)
Warmer temperatures caused the asses to emit chemicals at a faster rate, according to the study published in the Science of the Total Environment.
Dr. Poppendieck said, “The nicotine mass emitted from a flask for seven days can be similar to the nicotine mass emitted by regular and side stream smoke, especially at higher temperatures.”
“This means that if you don’t empty an ashtray in your house for a week, the amount of nicotine exposure to non-smokers can be double current estimates.”
The main stream is smoke that is inhaled by a tobacco smoker. Scientists already understand a lot about how this can damage the body.
Sidestream smoke is also known as passive smoking when a person inhales someone else’s cigarette. It also contains the chemicals that an unborn baby is exposed to when its mother smokes.
A lot of work has also been done to identify the dangers of passive smoking, including a higher risk of heart disease and strokes and cot death.
Research begins to show the dangers of exposure by third parties – when chemicals are in the air and on surfaces such as furniture – even after the cigarette is extinguished.
Limitations of the study include that they used only one brand of cigarettes. It was not revealed what type this was.