A tank of 21,000 cigarette butts will be the center of attention this afternoon as the No Butts Left Behind Task Force announces its plans to cut back on litter in Santa Barbara County.

At 3:30 p.m., the task force will host a press conference at the Floral/Fountain Gateway of Chase Palm Park on Cabrillo Boulevard to draw attention to the estimated 41 tons of littered cigarette butts collected annually in the county. Pedro Nava, 35th District state assemblyman, and 2nd District Supervisor Susan Rose will speak on behalf of the No Butts Left Behind project. Jessica Henn, a member of the task force, said the goal of the project is to make more locations to dispose of cigarette butts available to the public. She said the task force will also monitor the levels of cigarette litter over the next few years to determine whether the project has been successful.

Henn said cigarette butts are harmful to the environment, especially to aquatic habitats. Toxic chemicals from the butts seep into the groundwater and eventually into the ocean where they can poison the habitats of aquatic animals such as fish or whales.

“If someone litters a butt on State Street it can affect all the waterways,” Henn said. “It takes 10 years for a cigarette butt to decompose; they can travel a long way in 10 years.

The No Butts Left Behind Task Force consists of approximately 10 volunteers and was created last year by the Coalition Engaged in a Smoke-Free Effort (CEASE), which works to protect Santa Barbara County residents from the harmful effects of tobacco. The program is funded by state and local tobacco funds, but Henn said she did not know the cost of the program.

Henn said the group has tried to make a publicity campaign against cigarette litter its top priority in its first year.

“We’ve been on a big media push,” Henn said. “A lot of people don’t even think about cigarette butts on the ground and we want to move them to see the problem [exists].”

Henn said the group will track the future progress of the program by collecting cigarette butts in six locations throughout the county, including two high schools, two retail areas and two beaches. She said the group will compare the number of collected butts to those over the next two years to see if the number goes down, possibly as a result of the program.

The task force has also surveyed panels of smokers to develop ways they could cut back on the amount of litter. Henn said these panel members told the task force they would use ashtrays, if more were available or if they had portable ashtrays.

“We’re getting 10,000 ashtrays and we will start distributing them on May 20,” she said.

Danielle Endaya, tobacco prevention educator at the UCSB Student Health and a volunteer in the task force, said she has represented the UCSB campus during the task force’s planning stages. She said she hopes to decrease the amount of litter left on UCSB beaches, as well as on campus.

“I have been raising my own awareness by looking around campus,” Endaya said. “I have been seeing how many butts there actually are.”