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Butt why? The EU countries weighing a ban on cigarette filters to deter smoking and cut pollution

There are growing calls across Europe for a ban on cigarette filters, which are accused of polluting the environment and giving smokers a false sense of security.
There are growing calls across Europe for a ban on cigarette filters, which are accused of polluting the environment and giving smokers a false sense of security. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Roselyne Min with EBU
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Health and environmental campaigners are calling for a European ban on cigarette filters, saying it would fight pollution and discourage people from smoking.

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Cigarette butts are the second most common litter found on European beaches, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last year, WHO called on governments worldwide to consider cigarette filters as single-use plastics and ban them as they damage the environment and have no proven health benefits.

Littered tobacco products release 7,000 toxic chemicals, and the butts contain microplastics, which are known to be difficult to decay and pollute nature.

Some European countries including the Netherlands are now weighing a ban on cigarette filters.

“An outright ban on single-use cigarette filters appears to be the most effective option to counteract the harmful environmental effects of this type of litter,” the Dutch junior infrastructure minister Vivianne Heijnen told lawmakers in April.

“There are no proven health benefits to smoking cigarettes with a filter,” she added.

However, Heijnen said a national ban would contravene the European free trade agreement and that Europe-wide regulation should be considered instead. She suggested it could be included in the 2026 renewal of the European guideline on single-use plastics.

‘False sense of security’

Also last month, the Superior Health Council in Belgium suggested a European-wide ban on cigarette filters.

In a report, it argued that filters offer smokers a more “pleasant mouthfeel” and give them a “false sense of security”.

Health campaigners in Denmark agree and have joined the calls for a ban.

“We suggest that we forbid cigarette filters. We base this proposal on the intuitive (mis)understanding that cigarette filters have some sort of protective influence. We want to get rid of the false security,” Niels Them Kjær, in charge of tobacco control at the Danish Cancer Society, told Danish broadcast TV2.

The Danish Cancer Society and Danish Heart Association expect that cigarettes without filters would discourage young people from taking up smoking.

“For children and young people, it is easier to begin smoking if there is a filter on the cigarette. You avoid getting tobacco in your mouth, and it is simply more pleasant to smoke a cigarette with a filter,” said Kjær.

‘Symbolic and silly’

Tobacco giant Philip Morris has dismissed the idea as “silly”.

"It is a purely symbolic and silly proposal which is made to make life more troublesome for smokers," Christopher Arzrouni, who manages external affairs at Philip Morris Denmark, told TV2.

Politicians in Denmark have also suggested softer legislation such as a new tax on cigarette filters similar to the one on cigarette paper.

In the Netherlands, the government has however rejected a proposed deposit system that would see smokers receive cash for handing in their cigarette butts. Heijnen called the system impractical and said teens might find picking up discarded butts an easy way to earn money.

As campaigners and politicians imagine a smoke-free future, some companies are already preparing for it.

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Lidl now plans to phase out tobacco sales across Denmark by 2029, as part of a collaboration with the Danish Cancer Society.

Starting this summer, the discount grocery store chain will remove 20 per cent of the cigarettes from its shelves, and it already opened a new tobacco-free store in Hjørring this week.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

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