In honor of Earth Day, local Reality Check groups at Pittsford High School and Community Place of Greater Rochester recently held a cigarette butt pickup event at Pittsford Plaza, 3349 Monroe Ave., Rochester.

Reality Check members wore hazardous material suits while collecting bags of cigarette butts to put on display to show the negative impact that they have on the environment.

The health risks of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke are well known. The leading causes of death in the U.S. are lung and heart diseases, which are both highly associated with tobacco use and exposure, but the harm reaches beyond tobacco use and secondhand smoke.

Tobacco waste can be seen everywhere in communities. Residents see cigarette butts on streets, parks, sidewalks, benches and just about everywhere. Most people may see a few at a time and ignore the issue, but the accumulation of cigarette butts immediately negatively affects the environment. Most littered cigarette butts are filtered and collect the toxic and harmful chemicals from when the cigarette was smoked. The filtered cigarette butts also leave behind the nonbiodegradable plastic filters that last for years. Recent research shows that cigarette butts leach harmful chemicals into aquatic environments, are accidently consumed by animals and children and degrade living environments.

This environmental impact is a social injustice to communities that are already burdened with a higher density of tobacco retailers and targeted tobacco marketing. Populations in low socioeconomic, urban and rural communities are susceptible to these unfair practices by the tobacco industry. By raising awareness about the burden of tobacco product waste in the community, residents also create a foundation that supports strong tobacco control policies that can directly improve the overall health of the community.