Even though smoking on Pismo Beach and many other central coast beaches is prohibited, cigarette butts are still the most common piece of litter collected by clean up crews.
Volunteers spent Saturday morning plucking over 300 cigarette butts from the sand, just feet away from the cigarette disposal canisters stationed around the beach.
Hold On To Your Butts San Luis Obispo Chapter Program Coordinator Cynthia Replogle remembers the astounding number of cigarette butts collected by volunteers over the course of two hours during last year’s Coastal Clean Up Day.
"Over 15,000 cigarette butts picked up in just that short amount of time," Replogle said.
According to medical journals and environmental research, cigarette butts retain the same toxic chemicals inhaled by the smoker.
"They contain plastic in the filter, which most people don’t realize," Replogle said. "They think if they flick their butt on the ground, it will bio-degrade and go away. But because of the plastic, it doesn’t bio-degrade and can last 20 years."
SLO County Tobacco Control Health Education Specialist Ashley Allen dressed as a cigarette during a coastal cleanup and cigarette butt litter informational pop-up at Pismo Beach on Saturday.
"They leach toxic chemicals into the water and marine life will eat them," Allen said. "Eventually we eat that marine life, so we’re eating those chemicals as well."
Allen said birds also mistake the cigarette butts for food and ingest them, causing the birds to die.
At Saturday’s event, Allen and her crew handed out pocket ash trays for people to carry their cigarette butts until they find a trash can.
But Allen said much of the problem is not access to trash cans, but a mindset about cigarette butts.
"75 percent of smokers admit to littering their butts," Allen said. "For whatever reason, people don’t consider cigarette butts as litter."
It’s a habit that’s not only bad your health, but disastrous for the environment.
"If you drop a cigarette butt into a glass of water, it will kill any fish in the water, the toxins are that concentrated," Replogle said. "People think oh, it’s small, it will go away, but it doesn’t go away."