By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

The City of Baltimore recently launched a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers. 

Mayor Brandon M. Scott and the Baltimore City Law Department are suing six major tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA, Altria Group, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, British American Tobacco P.L.C, Liggett Group LLC and The George J. Falter Company, for the million-dollar cleanup costs the city incurs for toxic cigarette filter litter. 

“Every year, millions of cigarette filters are littered throughout Baltimore. They pollute soil and water, and they create a huge cleanup burden for the city,” said Scott. “We spend about $32 million annually to collect upwards of 2,600 tons of litter, including an estimated $5.3 million spent mitigating cigarette filter litter. This lawsuit is about holding tobacco companies responsible for the things that are being discarded, especially now when our DPW workers are stretched thin as a result of the pandemic and the great resignation.” 

According to the complaint, cigarette filters are the most frequent form of litter in the world, with nearly 4.5 trillion filters being thrown away every year. 

Although they appear to be cotton, cigarette filters are made out of cellulose acetate. This plastic material does not break down naturally.

Instead, the filters are broken down into smaller pieces by ultraviolet rays from the sun, but their source material–which contains cyanide, ammonia and formaldehyde– never completely disappears. Instead, it pollutes groundwater and soil, according to the complaint. 

This can impede plant growth, degenerate important aquatic habitats and contaminate waterways. The filters’ pollutants are also toxic to fish. 

According to the complaint, Baltimore’s trash wheels, which have been in operation since 2014, have collected more than 12.4 million cigarette filters from the city’s waterways overtime. 

“The city has a responsibility to not only protect its citizens and their environment but also to recover the costs that are imposed on the city for cleaning up after negligent polluters,” said Ebony M. Thompson, deputy solicitor for the City of Baltimore.

In the complaint, the City of Baltimore alleged that the cigarette manufacturers knowingly continue to produce non-biodegradable filters even though they are aware of their detrimental environmental impacts. The city also claimed that the tobacco companies do not include warnings on cigarette packaging to inform smokers on how to properly dispose of the filters. 

According to Thompson, the defendants have until Feb. 27 to respond to the lawsuit.

“The City is working with experts to calculate the amount of the City’s past damages and the cost to abate the problem, which we estimate to be in the millions of dollars,” said Thompson. “In addition, we are seeking injunctive relief to prevent these defendants from selling cigarettes with these hazardous filters.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America corps member.

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