Does My Cigarette Butt Look Big?: 'Walk Your Butt to the Can' Campaign Works

smoking snowman photo

Instead of coal? Photo by Daniel Spils via Flickr

Seems cigarette litter gets the most attention during summer months when beach sand is filled with butts, yet it's the most commonly littered item in the world year round. It's small, smokers don't realize it's toxic, and as less people smoke, fewer receptacles are available. An estimated 135 million pounds of cigarette butts are discarded in one year in the US alone. But (no pun intended) when Keep America Beautiful (KAB) launched its "Cigarette Litter Prevention Program" (CLPP) it started to finally see some results through the haze. KAB's CLPP 2009 report boasts a 48 percent reduction nationwide of cigarette litter. That's good news. The bad news is that it's only a two percent improvement over last year. Huh?The program has been going on for several years so it's been a slow burn but in 2009 it expanded to 202 participants with the support of Altria (parent of Philip Morris USA, makers of Marlboro, Chesterfield, Parliament, etc.). Tobacco products represent nearly 38 percent of all litter, according to the KAB litter study. Research shows that people who don't litter beverage cans, bottles and packaging, don't believe that tossing cigarette butts is "littering."

butts on corner photo

Photo by Stephen Mitchell via Flickr

Considering secondhand smoke pollutes the air and lungs, poisons waterways, kills fish, starts forest fires, causes cancer, and stinks, too, what part of "littering" don't smokers understand? Apparently, age and gender are a variable with this disconnect that it's toxic litter. The cellulose acetate stub is filled with tar, chemicals and nicotine that takes up to 10 years to decompose and contaminates oceans and rivers. It is a filter, after all.

A lack of receptacles accounts for 38 percent of the reason given for not properly disposing of butts. So since most tobacco litter happens at "transition points" in areas that prevent smoking (such as bus stops, building entrances, sidewalks around bars and restaurants), municipalities should make or require that more receptacles be available wherever smokers congregate, as well as at beaches and in parks. Perhaps bars should provide receptacles outside (maybe thanks to Philip Morris?)

cigarette receptacle photo

Photo by Eurlief via Flickr

The 50-plus year old Keep America Beautiful recommends enforcing butt litter laws. (What cop gives a ticket for stubbing out a butt?) Public service messages also raise awareness supposedly. But when Virginia placed more ash receptacles at transition points and distributed pocket ashtrays to adult smokers, it reduced cigarette litter by 70 percent.

In a survey of over 1,000 smokers, 75 percent claim they're likely to use a pocket ashtray if they had one. So, know a smoker? For the holidays give them a portable ashtray (an extinguishing keychain version is available on Amazon for $4). Of course, that's short of a cessation kit!

butts in glass photo

Post toast photo by Quinn Anya via Flickr
Lighting Up the Fireplace

And what about that smoky yule log? Throw a Java Log, made of recycled coffee grounds, for less emissions. It creates 88 percent less creosote accumulation, 79 percent less particulate matter, and 78 percent less carbon monoxide. For a happier holiday and a healthier new year.

More on cigarette litter:
How the Climate Bill Will Clean Up Our Beaches
Why the New Stricter Cigarette Laws Coming to the US are Good for the Environment
Ban the Bags, Butts and Bottles

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