We take their breath and life away

It is a well-known fact that smoking is injurious to health and is linked to several diseases, including cancer. Many campaigns promote anti-smoking by highlighting the devastating effects it has on your body. However, did you know that smoking endangers animals too?

From domestic pets to wild sea turtles to mutilated lab rats, smoking severely damages both the environment and our animal friends. Second-hand smoke inhalation not only affects humans but animals too. Studies show that cats who are owned by smokers are more than twice as likely to suffer from feline lymphoma. [1] Researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine have found that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke causes an overexpression of the p53 (tumour suppressor protein) gene in cats which then results in feline oral cancer. [2] Dogs have been known to fall seriously ill when owners leave nicotine products, like cigarette butts, lying around. The consumption of used tobacco products can lead to nicotine poisoning and severe vomiting with other gastrointestinal and cardiovascular symptoms. In addition to our canine companions and feline friends, cigarette littering impacts many other organisms.

Figure 1: A wild black skimmer chick (Rynchops niger) eating a cigarette filter- Courtesy of BBC and wildlife photographer Karen Mason

An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered each year. [3] The stubs are made from a non-biodegradable plastic called cellulose acetate. [4] The insides of the butts are filled with many harmful chemicals like arsenic, some heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as well as the user-consumed tobacco. [5] When these tiny, toxic tubes are carelessly discarded onto streets and into waterways, they cause ecological turmoil. Microscopic marine bacteria and Daphnia are negatively impacted by the toxic leachates of cigarettes. Aquatic bacteria and water fleas play key roles in the interdependency of animals and complexity of food webs within an ecosystem. This means that even if a limited number of seemingly insignificant species are affected by cigarette litter, it can have pernicious environmental ramifications. [6] Through this ‘knock-on’ effect, endangered megafauna, like turtles, can unintentionally ingest large, amplified quantities of lethal chemical components and thus suffer serious health issues. Some seabirds mistake washed-up butts as food and feed the used cigarettes to their chicks which can lead to death. It is clear to see that nature is struggling to adapt to our careless actions and this is having heart-breaking consequences. 

One cigarette can easily result in the loss of an innocent life.

Figure 2: Tobacco testing on beagles- Courtesy of change.org

Prior to their use and subsequent disposal, cigarettes must be made and tested in the first place. Cruel animal testing plays a large role in cigarette manufacture, despite the evidence to suggest that the results are irrelevant to human health. Unethical laboratory practices experiment on rats, monkeys, dogs and other animals by forcing them to breathe cigarette smoke through tubes for up to six hours, every day for three years. Some researchers directly pumped the smoke into confined cages or attached tubes into the nasal cavities of rats and then dissected them to examine the harm caused to their bodies. [7] Other experiments involved spreading tar on the skin of mice and rats and then forcing them to inhale cigarette smoke. The specimens were then peeled, killed and dissected for observational purposes. [8] At the Oregon National Primate Research Centre, dozens of pregnant rhesus monkeys were subject to a continuous flow of nicotine for the last four months of their pregnancies through surgically implanted tubes. A few days prior to full term, the researches removed and dissected the preterm babies to examine the effects of nicotine. [9] Not only are these experiments inhumane, but they are of no real benefit to our scientific understanding of smoking as each animal reacts differently to the toxins. The laboratory studies are controlled and the animals’ exposure to cigarette smoke is very much different to that of human smokers. The need to test cigarettes on animals is all smoke and mirrors (pun intended) and we must prevent further barbaric treatment of animals.

But how?

The best way forward is to quit smoking. As the National Cancer Institute said ‘There is no safe tobacco product’ [10], so we must strive to put a stop to smoking. This will halt the manufacture of cigarettes so unnecessary animal testing and excessive littering will cease. We can also support charities, like PETA, in the ending of cruel exploitation and experimentation on animals. Campaigning against littering, especially of tobacco waste, and spreading awareness about how smoking endangers the lives of animals can also help. Tobacco products are not only damaging the health of humans, they are also detrimental to the health of our planet and its inhabitants. So, for the sake of ourselves, our world and our non-human buddies, let’s make everyday a World No Tobacco Day! 


1)  Bertone ER, Snyder LA, Moore AS (2002). “Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Risk of Malignant Lymphoma in Pet Cats” https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/156/3/268/71617 [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

2) Snyder LA, Bertone ER, Jakowski RM, Dooner MS, Jennings-Ritchie J, Moore AS (2004). “p53 expression and environmental tobacco smoke exposure in feline oral squamous cell carcinoma”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15133168 [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

3) “5 Ways Cigarette Litter Impacts The Environment” (2020) Truth Initiative. https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/harmful-effects-tobacco/5-ways-cigarette-litter-impacts-environment [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

4) “Cigarette Litter –Filters” (2020) Longwood.Edu. http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/cigbuttfilters.htm [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020 

5) “Smoking’S Impact On Wildlife – The Overlooked Damage Done By Tobacco” (2020) Tobacco-Free Life. https://tobaccofreelife.org/resources/smoking-wildlife/ [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

6) Elli Slaughter, Richard M Gersberg, Kayo Watanabe, John Rudolph, Chris Stransky, Thomas E Novotny (2011) ‘Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish’ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088407/ [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

7) Charles L. Gaworski et al., (2011) “An Evaluation of the Toxicity of 95 Ingredients Added Individually to Experimental Cigarettes: Approach and Methods,”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21417965 [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

8) Mari S. Stavanja et al., (2006) “Safety Assessment of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as an Ingredient Added to Cigarette Tobacco.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16426827 [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

9) Theodore A. Slotkin et al., (2011) “Prenatal Nicotine Exposure in Rhesus Monkeys Compromises Development of Brainstem and Cardiac Monoamine Pathways Involved in Perinatal Adaptation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Amelioration by Vitamin C,”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21320590 [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

10) “Harms Of Cigarette Smoking And Health Benefits Of Quitting”. 2020. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

Figure References

1) “Picture Captures Bird Feeding Chick Cigarette End” (2020) BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48842178 [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

2) “Sign The Petition” (2020) Change.Org. https://www.change.org/p/help-to-ban-the-testing-of-tobacco-products-on-animals  [Date Last Accessed]: 18th May 2020

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