Study shows cigarette butts can be useful

2010-05-19
THE PUNCH Newspaper- Semiu Okanlawon

Scientists in China have discovered good uses for cigarette butts reducing what could be the destructive tendencies of smoking on the environment, writes SEMIU OKANLAWON



On a daily basis, how many butts of cigarette can you count as you go about the streets? Or if you are a smoker, how many of such butts do you contribute to the littering of the environment on a daily basis? And if you happen to fling such items into a river, do you know how much damage you cause the natural habitat of fishes? But rather than allow such negative effects of those items, scientists are saying that cigarette butts, as waste elements as they appear, have capacities for some good uses. Welcome to the laboratory of some Chinese scholars who have discovered the good uses to which cigarette butts can be put.



“Chemical extracts from cigarette butts – so toxic they kill fish – can be used to protect steel pipes from rusting, a study in China has found,” reports Reuters.



In a paper said to have been published in the American Chemical Society’s bi-weekly journal, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, the scientists in China said they found nine chemicals “after immersing cigarette butts in water.”



In trying to detect the good uses of the chemicals, the scientists were reported to have applied the extracts to a type of steel used in oil pipes, called N80, finding out after the experiment that they protected the steel from rusting.



The scientists wrote in their report, “The metal surface can be protected and the iron atom’s further dissolution can be prevented.”



In their report, it was observed that the chemicals, including nicotine, appear to be responsible for the anti-corrosion effect.



The research, which was reportedly funded by China’s state oil firm, China National Petroleum Corporation, was led by Jun Zhao at Xi‘an Jiaotong University’s School of Energy and Power Engineering. Of course, the report readily becomes a source of interests to environmental campaigners in other parts of the world, Nigeria most especially.



Corrosion of steel pipes used by the oil industry costs oil producers millions of dollars annually to repair or replace.



Of course, in a country like Nigeria with the combined environmental problems of smoking and oil spillage in the oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta, the study becomes very germane.



Interestingly, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria had been at the vanguard of the battles in the two areas. While the organisation, since its establishment, has been noted for its crusade against environmental degradation caused substantially by oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta, it has added to its body of campaigns, the battle to regulate smoking, especially in public places. Over the years, it has raised awareness on the dangers posed to human health by cigarette.



The group has worked with the World Health Organisation to promote its anti-smoking campaigns. Article 11 of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control demands each party to the protocol to adopt and implement, within three years after entry into force of the FCTC for that party, adequate measures to ensure that tobacco product packaging and labelling carry large, rotating health warnings and do not promote tobacco products by false, misleading or deceptive means.



It also requires that tobacco product packaging and labelling contain information on relevant constituents and emissions of tobacco products as defined by national authorities.



Definitely, parts of the constituents in question are those the Chinese scientists have discovered to be of good use.



As part of ERA’s battle in Nigeria, The National Tobacco Control Bill was sponsored by Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Olorunimbe Mamora. The bill scaled the second reading in February 2009.



A public hearing on the bill was also held on July 20 and 21 last year by the Senate Committee on Health, chaired by Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello.



On a global scale, the researchers estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts find their way into the environment each year. “Apart from being an eyesore, they contain toxins that can kill fish,” they stated.



Kill fish? This then becomes more worrisome for those who had engaged in environmental campaigns for the Niger Delta. Oil exploration constitutes its major headache for the people of the area. At the moment, issue of compensation by oil majors for degradations caused by spills is a vexed one. And with the toxic nature of butts, there is the additional burden of coping with the smoking habits of Niger Deltans, who may have been unwittingly contributing to their woes by killing their fishing businesses through toxic substances. What the scientists are preaching is an encouragement of recycling, which, according to them, could bring an end to indiscriminate disposal of cigarette wastes.



“Recycling could solve those problems, but finding practical uses for cigarette butts has been difficult,” the researchers wrote.



China is said to have about 300 million smokers. Reportedly the world’s largest smoking nation consuming a third of the world’s cigarettes, nearly 60 per cent of men in China smoke, “puffing an average of 15 cigarettes per day.”



Even if the smoking population in Nigeria does not present that kind of threat to fishing, the discovery that substances cigarette butts contain can help a great deal in tackling corrosion is a welcome relief.



“It is ERA’s conviction that tobacco is harmful in all ramification – from planting where farmers are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and deforestation since wood will be cut down for tobacco leaf curing, to actual smoking by an individual or second-hand smoke by the unintended consumer.



“Most times, cigarette is discarded just anywhere by smokers and of course can find its way into open drains etc and ultimately in the lagoon or rivers where we get our artisanal fish. If the scientists confirmed the danger of fish consuming the stub, then it adds to the overall dangers posed by cigarettes.”



With the incessant pipeline bursts, leading to oil spillage in oil communities and consequently aggravating tension, the new discovery might interest oil majors in their efforts to curb pipeline damages which are caused not only by vandalisation by aggrieved militants, but also by corrosion due to long years of usage.



According to ERA’s Media Officer, Mr. Phillip Jakpor, a survey carried out by the Federal Ministry of Health in 1990-91 showed that 4.14 million (representing 10 per cent) Nigerians over the age of 15 years smoked and that 1.26 million were heavy smokers. Heavy smokers, by the ministry’s definition, are those who consume more than 10 cigarettes per day.



By the end of 2001 when the British American Tobacco entered the Nigerian market, the smoking rate for youths of the 13–15 age bracket had increased to 18.1 per cent.



“A more recent survey conducted in 2006 showed that 13 million out of Nigeria’s estimated 140 million people smoke cigarettes. That survey also revealed that smoking among the youth is on a 20 per cent annual increase,” Jakpor stated.



ERA has accused the Nigeria government of failing to follow up after signing the FCTC in 2004 and ratifying it in 2005.

 

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