Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Defenestration of Malboros

I know that the smoking issue is starting to get stale, so this will be my last post on the issue for awhile, provided that the pro-smoking cartel doesn't come out with another asinine advertisement that demands to be disparaged.

A letter writer in today's paper voiced his displeasure at cigarette butt litter. Right before I started BlogFreeSpringfield, I had an editorial published in the SJ-R that addressed this very issue. So return with me now to June 15, 2005. The reference to Michael Jackson's trial dates the piece a bit, but overall, I think that it has held up remarkably well.

Outside the entrance to a local grocery store, cigarette butts litter the pavement. Ten feet away, a receptacle sits idly by for the convenience of those entering the smoke-free store.

Swept against the center median on a city street, discarded cigarettes huddle together in a mass state of abandonment, denied their rightful resting place inside a vehicle by a handful of loose change.

Not only is Springfield home the home of a beautiful new presidential library, it’s also the ashtray of choice for many local smokers on the go.

This is not merely a local problem. The Ocean Conservancy reports that tobacco-related items are the number one littered item in the United States and made up 38 percent of the debris collected in their 2003 coastal clean-up effort. But since Springfield is continuing to spruce itself up for tourists, it’s time people here gave a second thought as to what is and what isn’t an ashtray.

As a way to combat litter, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn is proposing that the state impose a five-cent deposit on beverage containers. He could further curry favor with the Retail Merchants Association by requiring that cigarette butts be made redeemable as well.

The idea isn’t unheard of. In 2001, a bill was introduced in Maine that proposed tacking on an extra dollar to the price of a pack of smokes that would be refunded when all 20 butts were safely accounted for at a redemption center.

It’s unproven if the prospects of a shiny new nickel would provide a smoker the necessary impetus to dispose of his butt in a more responsible manner anymore than it would keep a nineteen year-old from tossing her empty into a roadside ditch before returning mom’s car to the garage.

That nickel, however, might prove attractive to civic groups and non-profit organizations that figure they can fund their endeavors by mining street curbs, beaches and parking lots, and redeeming in mass.

This became one sticking point with the Maine bill. Concerned opposition had visions of Cub Scouts who would, rather than employ pointed sticks to pierce the cigarette butts Felix Unger-style, scoop them up by the handful. This, they argued, would pose a particular health risk, one presumably absent when the adopted guardians of highways handle worn-out shoes and sucked-dry bottles.

So why do so many cigarette butts get littered? Put-upon smokers’ rights organizations blame car manufacturers for the mass defenestration of Malboros because they no longer offer ashtrays as standard equipment in many of their models. And they blame a hostile society that no longer feels the need to accommodate their habit by providing ashtrays in public spaces.

For many smokers, however, flicking a butt earthward seems every bit as reflexive as coughing, suggesting that the cause just may be behavioral. One study claims that the average smoker will only make use of a public ashtray if it is within 3-5 meters at the time of his last drag. This means that if a shopper takes his final puff right as he exits his car, that ashtray all the way up by the store’s entrance may just as well be a donation kettle for the Michael Jackson Defense Fund, it won’t be receiving any contributions.

As a result of this behavior, smokers, already exiled from enclosed spaces, are increasingly finding themselves regulated against in the great outdoors. It’s not just the smoke they release, but the butts they leave behind.

Cigarette manufacturers and smoking rights groups don’t want to lose the war on smoking and so are willing to cede the battle on littering. Regardless of whether their true intent is to protect the environment or the image of their beleaguered customers, Phillip Morris is among those that use their Web site to encourage the responsible disposal of cigarette butts.

Clearly smokers are under attack in today’s society as they fight for their right to enjoy a legal product. But with rights come responsibilities. Their case for the former would be a lot more compelling if they saw to the litter* and kept their cigarette butts off the streets.

*The published version used the word "latter" here. I just realized that it would be the very height of clever wordplay to replace it with the word "litter."

1 comment:

Monkey Boy said...

Two comments;

You state that a smoker receiving a nickel may not be enough to encourage them to get on the redemption wagon. I say otherwise. I think they are very likely to go "butt hunting" (sounds good doesn't it?). I don't have the statistics but I can guarantee you that a certain percentage of Americans die each year as a result of a disagreement over, or the commission of a crime to obtain, cigarettes. I have seen way too many smokers in my time and the desperation they exhibit to think that a nickel won't entice them to tuck their discarded fags away for a future payday. How does one explain the homeless searching ashtrays for partially smoked, discarded butts? How does one explain those who appear to be "normal" standing in below zero degree weather to get a hit of tar? I think you greatly underestimate smokers' desperation and I nominate you to push forward the redemption program called "Butts for Cash," not to be confused, or compete with any established local escort service.

My other comment speaks to any wonderment that one may have as to how a smoker can brazenly litter with their discarded "ball and chains." Given that they have no qualms about blowing their filth into your direction and violating your freedom to avoid such, is anything else they do a surprise? They are in large selfish, ignorant people who deserve what they have coming to them when our local politicians finally get their heads out of their bar-owner constituents' asses.

And by the way, SJ-R letter writer, and bar-owner Scott Hankin is an idiot.

Someone had to say it.