Cigarette butts litter a roadway. Photo by waferboard/Flickr Creative Commons.

Baltimore City is suing cigarette manufacturers and distributors for the costs of cleaning up cigarette butts, as well as environmental and financial damages caused by litter from tobacco products.

Baltimore has filed a lawsuit against tobacco companies Phillip Morris, Altria Group, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, British American Tobacco, Liggett Group, and the cigarette distributor The George J. Falter Company.

As part of the lawsuit, Baltimore City is suing for the cost of cleaning up and disposing of cigarette filter litter, damages to the environment, negative impact on property values, revenue losses, and fines for litter dumping.

“This is the first litter lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers, and Baltimore is proud to lead the way in ensuring that these companies pay for cleanup costs that for decades they have offloaded on communities like ours,” Mayor Brandon M. Scott said in a statement.

Baltimore spends about $5.3 million each year to clean up litter from the millions of cigarette filters that pollute the city’s soil and water, according to city officials.

A study by the University of California at Berkeley found that cigarette butts that are littered can release toxic additives such as heavy metals, ammonia, formaldehyde, and benzene into water and soil, where they can remain in the environment for decades, city officials said.

“The same tobacco companies that for decades failed to acknowledge the health risks of their products are now refusing to take responsibility for cigarette butt waste,” Baltimore City Solicitor James L. Shea said in a statement. “We believe this lawsuit will hold Big Tobacco accountable for the damage its product causes to the City’s streets and waterways.”

The filters in many cigarettes are made out of a non-biodegradable, cellulose acetate base. Cigarette filters are the world’s most common type of litter, and globally about 4.5 trillion filters are discarded annually, according to city officials.

City officials said the budget for the Department of Public Works “has been stretched thin by the millions of dollars spent clearing sewage and drainage pipes of clogs from cigarette filters.”

The cost of collecting cigarette filter litter “would not be necessary if the Defendant tobacco companies had not deceived consumers, failed to educate the public, and off-loaded their cigarette filter cleanup costs to Baltimore,” city officials added.

Baltimore’s trash-collecting water wheels have removed more than 13 million cigarette butts from the city’s waterways since the first water wheel, Mr. Trash Wheel, launched in 2014.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at

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  1. Can the same concern lead to suits against the beverage industry gur the ubiquitous empathy water and soft drink bottles?

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