Environmental damage from tobacco pollution of air and water on Thailand beaches
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Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Center, Mahidol University, Thailand
Mahidol University, Faculty of Public Health, Thailand
Publication date: 2018-03-01
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2018;16(Suppl 1):A700
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Cigarette butts are known to be dangerous since they are mostly non-biodegradable plastic and contain dangerous chemicals embedded in filter material. Pollution from secondhand smoke on congested beaches and from cigarette waste on beaches in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) has received relatively little attention, and its assessment is important for environmental protection and human health.

We conducted an observational investigation to assess availability of cigarettes, population of smokers, warnings not to smoke, and number of cigarette butts on and adjacent to two popular public beaches in Thailand. We also took 88 measures of PM 2.5 levels in beach lounge areas on these beaches using equipment and protocols previously used for the assessment of secondhand smoke in outdoor locations.

Total, smoker and child populations varied with up to 100 total population, 4 smokers and 15 children in a 400 square meter area. This translates to 50 or more smokers along a 250 meter beach front area. In less than eight hours of cigarette butt collection, 2,810 cigarette butts were collected at one beach and 3,666 butts collected at the second beach with 56% collected in the beach lounge area. Peak PM 2.5 air pollution from smokers lounging on these beaches reached as high as 716 and 1,335 µg/m3 taken within 2 meters from active smokers. Cigarette retail sales were widely available close to the beaches, and only one beach had any “No smoking” signs posted.

Pollution of beaches is evident by the number of cigarette butts and the level of secondhand smoke exposure in Thai beach areas. In Thailand and similar LMIC where beaches are heavily used, we recommend a consumer education approach which highlights pollution dangers to children and the natural environment, followed by a ban of smoking on beaches.