Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ciggy Butts

[This is a copy of my article posted at, Santa Barbara news and fun website]

Edo, ergo dinumero. That’s Latin for “I Ed, therefore I count.” Okay, probably not what Descartes would have come up with, but he didn’t have a free translation website to help him. Ed counts palm trees, ladies wearing open-toed shoes, out-of-town license plates. On last Saturday’s morning neighborhood walk (from Chapala and Islay to Cottage Hospital and back), Biff the Wonder Spaniel and I counted discarded food containers (6), used diapers (2, ew!), beer cans (7) and moldy slices of bread (4). This proves my theory that just because we all walk upright, we’re not all of the same species.

Biff and I have very different taste (and we never discuss religion). I cringe at his attraction to a three-day-old tire-flattened meatloaf in the gutter. He’s curious about dead bird carcasses. Me? Not so much.

But we do agree in our revulsion for the thousands of cigarette butts we encounter on a typical walk. That’s not quite right – I’m revolted; he just ignores them. Good thing most dogs find the taste so offensive because a small dog could get seriously sick or die from ingesting a few toxic butts.

There’s a house about three doors down from us where some college age guys live. I don’t know if their rental agreement prohibits smoking, or they would just rather sit out in the fresh air while (this isn’t going to make any sense) they suck in a little arsenic, vinyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, acetone, mercury, lead and carbon monoxide. It would appear from the piles of butts in the grassy parkway that once they finish, it’s a quick flick of the forefinger and then it’s someone else’s problem. I gave up counting when I reached 120 butts in a 20 ft. by 5 ft. area.

Here’s my problem. There is nothing about a used cigarette butt tossed on the ground that exempts it from being classified as trash. I don’t want to smell them, see them, step on them or have neighborhood kids playing with them. I don’t want them finding their way into storm drains, into creeks, having their toxic payload leach into the water, and then washing up on the beach. You smoked it, you evidently enjoyed it, and then you left it for someone else to deal with.

What makes smokers think that their pleasure-giving habit (we’re talking relatively short-term) immunizes them from the responsibility of cleaning up after themselves?
I want to believe that most of the smokers who deliberately throw their cigarettes down don’t have the same attitude about a gum wrapper or the cigarette’s packaging. Of course there are always exception, but smokers aren’t necessarily bad people – perhaps there’s just something about a spent cigarette that makes them want to distance themselves from the detritus. How else do you account for the 176 million pounds of butts discarded in the United States in one year (Surfrider Foundation). That’s the weight of about 400 Statues of Liberty. [Note regarding the preceding sentence – it’s a journalistic device to take a huge abstract number that people can’t fathom, and relate it to something we all connect with. I learned that from watching Carl Sagan.] Worldwide, the tonnage increases to a whopping 1.69 billion pounds. One more statistic and I’ll move on. 1.1 billion smokers worldwide consumed 5.5 trillion cigarettes in 2004. I wonder what percentage was considerately disposed of?

“That’s okay, it’s just cotton and it’s biodegradable,” offers the environmentally conscious smoker.

Well, wouldn’t that be nice? Actually, the typical cigarette filter is composed of 12,000 strands of a synthetic plastic called cellulose acetate. Ignoring the toxic compounds that leach out of them, filters are emphatically not biodegradable. They do eventually break down, taking between two and fifteen years, depending on where they end up, but they do not revert to harmless natural compounds. They just turn to powdered cellulose acetate, flowing to the ocean, leaching into ground water, or rising as dust in the wind (cool name for a tune!).

Hey, this isn’t just me wanking. I stopped by the Phillip Morris website and even they have a page that tries to get their customers to reduce the environmental impacts and the visual blight caused by ciggy butts. Call me cynical, but my guess was that it’s part of a class action settlement.

I used to smoke. I’d go for a few months or a year, then decide I was done, go cold turkey, and not think about it again for a year or more. I must have missed out on my dad’s three pack a day gene. My point is, I’m not beating up on all smokers – just the unconscious, inconsiderate, knuckle-draggers.

I’m not asking you to give up smoking, just to consider that it shouldn’t impact anyone else, or our planet. Figure out some way to safely extinguish the hot tip and give the remains a respectful final resting place.

I don’t mind. Biff and I will amuse ourselves looking for day-old meatloaf.


Shirley "EdenMaker" said...

Amen Billy and lets not forget the other bane- chewing gum!

Y Brands said...

right, right, right...
Good you point it out - thank you.

kd said...

Agreed -- smokers should butt out responsibly. (I always feel like leaning on the car horn when I see the driver of a car ahead of me casually flick his/her still-glowing butt out of the car window...)


Lancashire rose said...

I'll bet the consensus is unanimous on this one. let me point out a couple of things about how other countries deal with this. In Hong Kong if you drop a butt on the ground and you are seen you get a ticket. This happened to a girl I know who casually stubbed out the cig with her foot. In England the chewing gum situation is out of control. Everywhere you go the sidewalks have these grey circles-especially outside a business. I commented once thinking they were patches of lichen- but no, chewing gum. Do you know what is involved in getting the stuff cleaned up? Now let us remember that we introduced the stuff to England. At least I rarely see that here although when I do it is after I have trodden in it and you can imagine what that is like in Texas. Singapore banned chewing gum although I think it may have been lifted now. I bet you never see a butt there. Oh, and whilst I'm ranting dog pooh. Fines in England for that. It used to be a horror story.