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Extinguished Cigarettes Give Off Toxins - A New Study Finds

Cigarette butts pile up in parks, streets and places where all types of littering are frowned upon. An estimated more than five trillion butts are generated by smokers worldwide each year, and concern about their environmental impact has prompted studies of how they affect water and wildlife habitats. But despite their prevalence, almost no one has studied the airborne emissions coming off these tiny bits of trash. 
Dustin Poppendieck, a measurement scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and his team found that a used butt — one that is cold to the touch — can in one day give off the equivalent of up to 14% of the nicotine that an actively burning cigarette emits.
The NIST measurements were performed under an interagency agreement with the Food and Drug Administration as part of its analysis of the overall impact of cigarette smoking on people’s lives. 
Measurements and epidemiological studies over the last 50 years have improved our understanding of the health impacts of tobacco. Work has also been done to establish the health effects of secondhand smoke, which is the emissions from the end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar, and the smoke that is exhaled by smokers. 
More recently, research has also examined thirdhand exposure, which comes from the chemical residue that stays on surfaces such as walls, furniture, hair, clothing and toys after a cigarette has been extinguished. Like mainstream smoking and secondhand smoke, thirdhand exposure can increase the risk of cancers and cause numerous other health problems, especially in the still-developing bodies and brains of infants and children. 
The overall goal of the recent NIST study was to quantify the emissions from extinguished cigarettes and discover what happens to those emissions when the butts are left in different environments. 
Poppendieck’s team measured eight of the hundreds of chemicals typically emitted from cigarettes that are harmful and potentially harmful constituents, along with triacetin, a plasticizer often used to make filters stiff. 
The team built a “smoking machine” that uses robotic movements to simulate what humans do when they light up, and successfully “smoke” over 2,100 cigarettes.

N. Hanacek/NIST
Most of the chemicals from the extinguished butts were emitted in the first 24 hours. However, nicotine and triacetin concentrations were still about 50% of the initial level five days later. 
The team also found that butts emitted these chemicals at higher rates when the air temperature was higher.
Poppendieck and his team refer to them loosely as “after smoke” or just butt emissions. 
The research team wants people to know that the chemicals remain long after the cigarette goes out. People have been asked to not throw their cigarettes out car windows, because it takes years for the butts to degrade.  Used butts can be put into sealable metal or glass jars with sand instead of leaving them out in the open. 
Source: NIST
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