Cigarette filters are intended to reduce the amount of smoke, tar, and fine particles inhaled during the combustion of a cigarette, but have no actual proven health benefits. Filters also reduce the harshness of the smoke and keep tobacco flakes out of the smoker's mouth.
In 1925, Hungarian inventor Boris Aivaz patented the process of making a cigarette filter from crepe paper, with some variants including cellulose wadding, during experiments at the Ortmann plant of Bunzl. Aivaz produced the first cigarette filter from 1927 in co-operation with Bunzl's Filtronic subsidiary, but uptake was low due to a lack of the machinery required to produce cigarettes with the filtered tip.
From 1935, a British company began to develop a machine that made cigarettes incorporating the tipped filter. It was considered a speciality item until 1954, when manufacturers introduced the machine more broadly, following a spate of speculative announcements from doctors and researchers concerning a possible link between lung diseases and smoking. Since filtered cigarettes were considered "safer", by the 1960s, they dominated the market.
With classic filter cigarettes, the filter is covered with a cork-colored mouthpiece. Some cigarette brands use a white mouthpiece.
Most factory-made cigarettes are equipped with a filter; those who roll their own can buy them from a tobacconist or make them themselves.
The raw material for the manufacture of cigarette filters is cellulose (obtained from wood). The cellulose is acetylated (i.e. making it into a material called cellulose acetate or simply "acetate" for short), dissolved, and spun as continuous synthetic fibers arranged into a bundle called tow. The cellulose is a substituted diacetate (actually 2.35 - 2.55 substitution range) cellulose, due to its chemical and physical processing. This tow is opened, plasticized, shaped, and cut to length to act as a filter.
In the early 1950s, Kent brand cigarettes used crocidolite asbestos as part of the (Micronite) filter. Asbestos fiber is heatproof, insoluble and forms extremely fine fibers — but has been proven to cause lung cancer when inhaled. Other filter variations include Lark, Tareyton, Parliament, and Napoli cigarettes, which feature a chamber filled with activated charcoal granules.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture price support for the various grades of tobacco favored the use of #4 and 5 grade, which included what were known as sand lugs and floor sweepings at 10 cents/lb versus #1 grade at close to 70 cents. During the 1940s, it was less expensive to manufacture a filtered cigarette than a regular one.
Although most smokers believe that the cigarette filters make them safer, it is impossible to create a good filter without taking away the substances that the smokers like. For example, it is impossible to remove tar completely as cigarettes packages show. The amount of tar showed in the cigarette packages is measured after the filter. In other words, it is the amount of tar that these filters cannot filter.
In addition, the filter of a standard cigarette contains fifteen thousand acetate fibers. These fibers can be detached from the filter and be inhaled while smoking. The risk that these fibers covered by tar represent for the health of the smokers has not been determined.
In light cigarettes and some full flavor cigarettes, the filter is perforated with tiny holes that dilute the smoke with air. As such, the inhaled smoke contains less tar and nicotine. In theory, this should make the cigarette "safer" than full flavor ones. In practice, however, the average smoker compensates by inhaling more deeply or by covering parts of the holes with fingers or lips. Because of this, smokers of light cigarettes can be exposed to equal or greater doses of carcinogens and tar than they would be with medium tar cigarettes.
Most cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate. Cigarette filters contain twelve thousand plastic-based fibers, and like many other forms of plastic are not biodegradable. The leftover filter is the most common form of litter; International Coastal Cleanup volunteers collect an estimated 53 million cigarette butts each year. The filters' non-biodegradability increases landfill demands, adds costs to municipalities' waste-disposal programs, and creates environmental blight in public spaces. Using standard tests adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Novotny and other researchers discovered that a cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water for four days will kill both the topsmelt and the freshwater fathead minnow fish species.
This resistance to biodegrading is a factor in littering, environmental damage and suggested lung damage. In the 2006 International Coastal Cleanup, the number of individual cigarettes and cigarette butts collected amounted to 24.7% of the total number of garbage items collected, over twice as many items as any other category.
The highway authority in the state of California, Calltrans, has implemented the "butts to watts" program that utilizes cigarette waste to generate electricity that is fed back to the grid. Disposal sites are located at all of California's highway safety rest areas. Cigarette waste has good BTU potential.
Cigarette filters are the most common form of litter in the world, as approximately 5.6 trillon cigarettes are smoked every year worldwide. Of those it is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette filters become litter every year. In the 2006 International Coastal Cleanup, cigarettes and cigarette butts constituted 24.7 percent of the total collected pieces of garbage, over twice as many as any other category. One study showed that for the LC50 of both Marine Topsmelt (Atherinops affinis) and freshwater Fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) smoked cigarette filters + tobacco are more toxic than smoked cigarette filters, but both are severely more toxic than unsmoked cigarette filters.
The first step in the biodegradation of cellulose acetate is the deactylation of the acetate from the polymer. The second reaction Acetylesterase is a catalyzes. The duration of the biodegradation process occurs over month to years, the major factor being the availability of the appropriate enzymes. Another process of degradation is Photodegradation.
Remediation and regulation efforts
Many governments have sanctioned stiff penalties for littering of cigarette filters; for example the Washington state imposes a penalty of $1,025 for littering cigarette filters. Another option is developing better biodegradable filters, much of this work lies heavily on the research in the secoundary mechanism for photodegradtion as stated above. The next option is using cigarette packs with a compartment to discard cigarette butts in, implementing monetary deposits on filters, increasing the availability of butt receptacles, and expanding public education. It may even be possible to ban the sale of filtered cigarettes altogether on the basis of their adverse environmental impact. Recent research has been put into finding ways to utilizes the filter waste, to develop a desired product. One research group in South Korea have developed a simple one-step process that converts the cellulose acetate in discarded cigarette filters into a high-performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicle and wind turbines to store energy. These materials have demonstrated superior performance as compared to commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nano tubes. The product is showing high promise as a green alternative for the waste problem. Another group of researchers has proposed adding tablets of food grade acid inside the filters. Once wet enough the tablets will release acid that accelerates degradation to around two weeks.
- Cigarette holder
- List of cigarette smoke constituents
- List of additives in cigarettes
- Tobacco smoking
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10-15 years: length of time it takes a filter's component fibers to break down; they do not biodegrade
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