Cigarettes are the most common type of litter in the world, and contrary to popular belief, they are not biodegradable. What is more, tobacco companies designed their cigarette filters to be non-biodegradable despite knowing that they would be littered. The City of Baltimore filed suit against Philip Morris International and other major tobacco manufacturers to hold them accountable for cigarette litter, with charges including public nuisance, trespass, and violations of state and municipal laws. The city seeks to recover damages including the past, present, and future costs to the city of cleaning up cigarette litter, as well as punitive damages.
Why It Matters for Public Health
Cigarette filters are not biodegradable and are made of material that is toxic to many plants, microbes, insects, fish, and mammals. Used filters also release chemical compounds derived from tobacco combustion that further pollute waterways, soil, and the environment. In addition to the harmful effects of cigarette litter on other organisms and its contribution to degrading environments and habitats, cleaning up cigarette litter is costly, diverting limited government funds from other uses and investments. Baltimore estimates that 65% of smokers litter their filters, producing toxic waste that the city approximates it spends $5 million each year to remove.
Since 1998, the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) has required tobacco companies to pay most states, including Maryland, in perpetuity because of the harmful effects of cigarettes on human health. The MSA, however, does not address harms that cigarettes have imposed on non-human life, environments, and ecosystems.
The defendant cigarette manufacturers had originally designed biodegradable filters. They chose not to use them, however, after identifying that their customers preferred the draw of their non-biodegradable, plastic filters. The defendant cigarette manufacturers therefore opted for plastic filters to garner better sales, yet they also knew that people would litter these non-biodegradable products. They continue to know that people litter their cigarettes and still choose to use non-biodegradable filters.
The City of Baltimore filed its complaint in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City on November 21, 2022. The complaint included eleven counts: one violation of Maryland’s Illegal Dumping and Litter Control Law, four violations of the Baltimore City Code, and charges of trespass, strict liability for a design defect, negligent design defect, public nuisance, strict liability for a failure to warn, and negligent failure to warn. Possible penalties for the violations of state and municipal codes include fines and imprisonment.
Litigation Status (OPEN)
On February 3, 2023, Philip Morris International filed a notice of removal, arguing that the case concerns questions of federal law and requesting that that it be removed from the Circuit Court of Baltimore City to the District Court for the District of Maryland.