Cigarette Littering: Another Unhealthy Habit

Greggory Moore | Moore Lowdown
Cigarette Littering: Another Unhealthy Habit

image by: Omid Tavallai

Cigarette butts are the most littered item on the planet. We do it or see it happening every day. Why do we act as if this is okay?

You're a cigarette smoker, which is bad enough. Your nicotine-tinged exhalations is what the Environmental Protection Agency calls a Group A carcinogen, a known cause of cancer in humans. They say you and your smoky cohort cause about 40,000 nonsmokers to die each year from lung cancer and heart disease, not to mention over 150,000 respiratory-tract infections in infants.

But let's leave all that aside. You know it's a bad habit, but beating addiction is tricky business. Besides, you're not smoking around kids, you're not smoking in confined spaces (except perhaps for your own home or car), so while you may be contributing to air pollution, you're not a killer.

Nonetheless, there remains an inexcusable part of your behavior: discarding your cigarette butts on the ground. That's not because you're an addict: that's because you're a selfish asshole.

One of two things is happening right now: either A) you're feeling guilty, or B) you're getting defensive. You're in category B? Then you're not just a selfish asshole, but you're also an idiot. I mean, you're needlessly putting your wants ahead of what's best for others, right? Isn't that a fair definition of 'selfish'?

It's not like you don't know better. You don't just toss your trash on the ground. You even deposit your bottles and cans in recycling receptacles when convenient. You don't like seeing litter on city streets or on in nature. You would never leave a candy wrapper in a national parks.

But you think it's different with cigarette butts. Unfortunately, you're not alone. For your entire life you've seen smokers drop their butts on the sidewalk and crush them out under a heel or toss them out into the road. That's why cigarette butts have consistently been found to be the most commonly littered item in the United States.

While no doubt you don't just drop cigarette butts on your driveway, balcony, or back patio, perhaps you feel justified in discarding your butts on public property, because aren't your tax dollars paying for street-cleaning services and such? Putting aside the fact that even the most well-funded and diligent street-cleaning service in the world couldn't do anything about refuse that accumulates between cleanings, perhaps you really don't understand how much waste gets washed into sewers and storm drains before being flushed into the ocean. But it's that sequence of events that makes cigarette butts the most commonly found type of trash on beaches, nearly doubling the runner-up.

You're not in denial about the toxicity of nicotine, but perhaps you haven't heard that the butts themselves—whether smoked or unsmoked—are toxic to fish. If you want to see for yourself, drop one of your butts in your goldfish's bowl. Within four days that will be one dead fish.

Okay, you're willing to take some responsibility for your bad behavior. But part of the problem, you protest, is that there aren't enough ashtrays around. You're not supposed to just put your butts in the trash, because that might light some of the discarded paper products on fire. Hell, even Keep America Beautiful, at their website, reports that putting an ash receptacle in an area decreases the rate of butt litter (insert Beavis & Butthead laugh here) by 9%, and that ashtrays being phased out of auto manufacture correlates with an increased likeliness of smokers to litter. If only there were more ash receptacles!

But you know what? Screw you! Society doesn't owe you a convenient environment for smoking. Better we go in the other direction, like Illinois just did, and fine you $1,500. Want to avoid such harsh treatment? Crush the butt out, wet it with something until you can put your fingers on it, then put it in the trash. Or carry your own little receptacle in your purse or pocket. Whatever. Your litter, your responsibility.

The thing is, you're not this dumb. You already know all of this. Maybe even while you were getting defensive, deep down you were really feeling guilty. In that case, there's nothing more to say. You know the facts. You know what you're doing and what you should be doing. The only thing left is to act on your convictions.

No-one likes a hypocrite, not even hypocrites. So if you're a smoker behaving badly, stop. And if you're a nonsmoker, next time you see one of your smoker friends engage in this little bit of littering, ask her whether she throws her other trash on the ground. When she says she doesn't, ask her how this is different. Even she'll see she doesn't have a good answer. And maybe that will help cut into this toxic clutter that we're so accustomed to.


About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly,, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:

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