I was aware of the problem, I did see them too. I didn’t like it, but I never thought about it too much, after all I was a smoker myself. I wasn’t that bad, but I have to admit I flicked them now and then as well. I was careful in my own yard, kept an ashtray in the car and never left one behind when I was walking or hiking. But…I too flicked them now and then.
Smokers discard billions of cigarette butts yearly, tossing many directly into the environment. Cigarette butts accumulate outside of buildings, on parking lots and streets, where they can be transported through storm drains to streams, rivers, and beaches.
Cigarette butts accumulate in the environment due to the popularity of plastic cigarette filters and the habit some smokers have to “toss their butt” rather than use ashtrays.
Prior to 1954, most cigarettes were non-filtered. In the mid-1950s, sales of filtered cigarettes increased dramatically as the cause-effect relationship between smoking and cancer was reported extensively in the press. Before these reports, in 1950, sales of filtered cigarettes in the US were 1.5% of all cigarette sales. Now, more than 97% of cigarettes sold in the U .S. have filters.
The recent bans on indoor smoking have also appeared to cause a shift in cigarette butt deposition. Circumstantial evidence indicates that more cigarette butts are accumulating outside of buildings due to the popularity of indoor smoking bans. In Australia, cigarette butts account for 50% of all litter, a trend that the executive director of Keep Australia Clean blames partly on indoor no-smoking policies.
Cigarette butts in the environment is a litter issue—not a smoking issue.
Just as the manufacturers of sodas have no control over the consumer’s disposal of empty cans or bottles, cigarette manufacturers cannot control a smoker’s behavior when it comes to the disposal of cigarette butts. Just as beverage manufacturers contribute to litter prevention campaigns, and have invested in public education on litter issues, so too should the tobacco industry. So far, cigarette manufacturers have made small efforts at litter prevention education. They need to take an active and responsible role in educating smokers about this issue and devote resources to the cleanup of cigarette litter. Strategies can include anti-litter messages on all packaging and advertisements, distribution of small, free portable ashtrays, and placement and maintenance of outdoor ashtrays in areas where smokers gather. Maybe cigarette packages can be redesigned to accommodate discarded butts.
In some states, consumers pay a small “anti-litter tax” every time they purchase a canned or bottled beverage. These funds support anti-litter efforts. A similar tax on cigarette purchases would go a long way toward funding campaigns aimed at eliminating the littering of butts. Picking up littered cigarette butts costs schools, businesses, and park agencies money. By taxing smokers for anti-litter educational efforts, some of the costs of cleaning up cigarette butts will shift onto smokers.
Smokers who now treat outdoor spaces as public ashtrays may reconsider their behavior when they learn that cigarette butts are made of plastic, not of cotton and paper; and worse, that cigarette butts contain chemicals that can kill some of the animals that occupy critical positions in aquatic communities. It is important that smokers’ littering behavior be modified to decrease this source of pollution.
I strongly believe that most smokers aren’t even aware of the problem. I was a smoker for 35 years and I never thought about it -until now. Most cigarette and cigar tip littering happens at “transition points.” Areas where a smoker must get rid of a cigarette or cigar before proceeding, such as outside retail stores, hotels, office buildings, before entering beaches, parks or other recreation areas, and at roadside rest areas, parking lots, bus shelters, and train platforms.
I recall grocery stores without a public ashtray. I remember how helpless I felt, I didn’t want to throw it in the normal trash and cause a fire. Stomping them out on the ground seemed like a good alternative then.
Messages about cigarette butt litter and ash receptacles at transition points would send an important message. Lots of commercials (too many) show the risks of smoking, but none shows the risk for the environment.
Sometimes it’s just about awareness. Copenhagen (Denmark) put two gigantic sculptures of cigarette butts downtown. What a great idea! It gives young artists a chance to show their work and it confronts smokers with the problem.
(Source:“Underwater Naturalist” Bulletin of the American Littoral Society, Volume 25, Number 2, August 2000 written by Kathleen M. Register, Source: Preventcigarettelitter.org, Source: Keep America Beautiful Litter Study, Source: http://www.oceanconservancy.org)