Cigarette butts: litter?
June 8, 2005 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Why do many (most?) smokers consider it acceptable to throw their used butts on the sidewalk/out the window, when they wouldn't even think about throwing other types of trash on the ground?
posted by UKnowForKids to Grab Bag (50 answers total)
 
Convenience or at least, it's inconvenient to put the damn things out/place in a bin in public sometimes. It's not good and I try not to but I admit to it -- although very rarely these days. Poor excuse? Yes, and I agree with having decent penalties. Hypocrite? Yes, but I'm trying to change.
*rolls own slightly more environmentally friendly type cigarette and goes outside for a moment of guilty pleasure*
posted by peacay at 9:00 AM on June 8, 2005


Just a thought: because all of the non-smokers bitched about having ashtrays located near buildings?

Here comes another "let's lynch the smokers" thread...
posted by hummus at 9:00 AM on June 8, 2005


I should say that I smoke on occasion, and I have no desire for this thread to be a pile-on for smokers.
posted by UKnowForKids at 9:02 AM on June 8, 2005


I used to smoke. When you're done smoking a cigarette, it's still burning. You can't just throw it into the nearest bin without, you know, catching the bin on fire. Putting the cig out means stopping, stabbing it repeatedly on the sidewalk, or squeezing the ash/tobacco out and throwing the filter/butt away.

That, plus the unavailability of ashtrays, makes for a lot of butts on the ground.

on preview: peacay
posted by fake at 9:10 AM on June 8, 2005


I am not a smoker, but I will say this in response as more of a hypothesis. Whether it will be interpreted as a "pile-on for smokers" or not, I don't know.

I think that, especially due to restrictive legislation and general popular sentiment, smokers probably view their smoking as a "right," and that right being under siege. Imagine being told, "You can only talk with your friends here and here, but not here," or "You can only read books in this zone."

I'd imagine that in such a situation, the act of purposefully littering with the cigarette butt might be an internalized reaction of protest — "F—k you, it's my right to smoke wherever I darn well want."

That having been said, I've found that in most occasions, smokers seem to interpret their right to smoke as superceding my right to breathe fresh air and not be confronted by about 50 cigarette butts per square yard wherever I walk.

To me, both actions (not smoking, but smoking right in my face or in a closed environment where you resultingly force others to breathe your smoke; and the littering of said butts) seem to stem from a simple total lack of consideration for the people who will have to clean up after them (the custodial staff in charge of whatever particular area) and those around you. As such, I don't consider it a "right" to litter nor a "right" to inflict smoke on others. Isn't there a saying somewhere, "Your rights stop where mine begin," or something to that effect?

I should note, in smokers' defense, however, that that lack of consideration, however, is hardly individual to them; it encompasses the majority of Americans nowadays. One might as well ask why people feel it's totally acceptable to leave popcorn, soda, candy, and diapers (yes, DIAPERS) in the aisles of movie theaters -- or ask why people visiting theme parks seem to enjoy leaving garbage everywhere except the 9,000 trash receptacles placed everywhere. I remember those particular summers of my teenage years with great disaffection ...
posted by WCityMike at 9:18 AM on June 8, 2005


Why do people think it is "acceptable" to cut down forests, turn mountains into valleys, stop rivers with damns, cover land with cement and asphalt, erect buildings that block out the sun, or any other destructive thing we do routinely?

Seriously, why do people think that hiding trash in "wastebaskets" and landfills or incinerating it into the atmosphere is any better or more "acceptable" than throwing it on the street for all to see?

Maybe more people should litter aggressively.
posted by mokujin at 9:21 AM on June 8, 2005


I only really do that in the city, when I'm anywhere thats nice, I'll roll the end of the cig until the cherry and the rest of the tobacco falls out, and ill pocket the butt. When I toss the butt, I usually just toss it in the street, because I know either street sweepers or the sewers will eventually trash it for me. Where else are you going to toss a burning object? A public trashcan with newspapers and other incendiaries?

Of course, if I *do* see a bucket of sand or equivalent, I'll make use of it.
posted by Mach5 at 9:22 AM on June 8, 2005


What peacay said. I don't drop my butts on the ground as a general rule; I go looking for trash cans to stub them out on & throw them away. I have thrown them out the car window although I feel horrible about it. Why? My car, like most newer American cars, has no ashtray. I try to keep a very gross bottle with a little water in it in the car for an ashtray, and I don't usually smoke in the car, but sometimes I forget. If there is a trash can, ashtray, anything - I will use it rather than stub it out on the ground. And I never, never, never leave butts at the beach or in the woods etc. But okay, I confess - if I'm in a gross city alley/parking lot and there are already a million butts - I might add mine to the pile.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:25 AM on June 8, 2005


The "because smokers' rights are being taken away" argument doesn't hold water. Smokers have been tossing their butts away for decades. At least since I was a tyke. It's nothing new. It's not a reaction to anything. It's a decades-old phenomenon, perhaps as old as cigarette smoking itself.
posted by jdroth at 9:25 AM on June 8, 2005


I thinks it's the same non-decision as spitting on the sidewalk or letting fingernail clippings fall where they may. The trash is (thought to be) inconsequential, ubiquitous and easily dismissed without a second thought.
...Remember pull tabs from drink cans?
posted by klarck at 9:32 AM on June 8, 2005


Could it be a holdover from before everyone smoked filtered cigarettes? Tossing aside a scrap of paper and a few shreds of tobacco seems way less obnoxious than leaving a whole (non-biodegradable) filter on the ground.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:38 AM on June 8, 2005


I agree with Klarck, since it's so small most people just dismiss it...

Most of the time I try to roll the leftover tobacco out of the cigarette, stomp out the cinders, and either find a garbage can or stick the butt in my change pocket. Sure it's gross, but I'd rather not inflict my habit on other people.
posted by jackofsaxons at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2005


What sucks is those butts almost NEVER degrade. They'll be there for the entire lifetime of the smoker. Okay, ha ha, they'll be there longer than just a few years. Something like 50.

Smokers who want an area to stay looking nice that has no ashtray should do what others do with their trash . Stick it in their pockets until they're somewhere acceptable to dispose of it. [read link before accusing me of making you immolate]
posted by shepd at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2005


i think the main reason is that the trashcan with paper towels and newspaper would be a bad place to throw a burning thing.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 9:40 AM on June 8, 2005


Sounds like we need a combination lighter/butt-neutralizer -- would that stop people from tossing their cigarettes on the street?
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:41 AM on June 8, 2005


My fiance pinches off the burning tip and pockets the butt if he can't find somewhere to put it, so I don't see why most people don't do that. Even when ashtrays are provided, as they are in the designated smoking area in the parking garage (!) of my work building, people still throw their butts on the ground. I think it's not a question of just smokers, really, but a more broad question of why some people don't dispose of trash properly. The short answer: because some people are lazy schmucks, and I'd guess that that demographic is just as represented among smokers as among non-smokers.
posted by jennaratrix at 9:43 AM on June 8, 2005


WCityMike writes "One might as well ask why people feel it's totally acceptable to leave popcorn, soda, candy, and diapers (yes, DIAPERS) in the aisles of movie theaters"

Geez, I haven't seen that but I did pick up a diaper that some one discarded a couple miles up a trail in Mount Zion NP, Utah. What ever the thought process that has some smokers discarding butts on sidewalks I'm sure was expressed in the extreme that day.
posted by Mitheral at 10:08 AM on June 8, 2005


I'd imagine that in such a situation, the act of purposefully littering with the cigarette butt might be an internalized reaction of protest — "F—k you, it's my right to smoke wherever I darn well want."

Nope. As someone else said, this isn't a new thing.

i think the main reason is that the trashcan with paper towels and newspaper would be a bad place to throw a burning thing.

Oh please. Do you really think with the millions of butts on the ground most came from people afraid of causing a fire?

Just a thought: because all of the non-smokers bitched about having ashtrays located near buildings?

Here comes another "let's lynch the smokers" thread...


Just a thought: what makes you think it's the publics responsibility to help you discard your nasty habit? But you're one step ahead of me, ready to play the victim.

This is easy uknowforkids. It's simply an inconvenience. They should be fined. Nothing ruins a walk on the beach more than finding a butt in your path. I guess hummus would want a beautiful ashtray there also.

In some communities if you walk the dog and it goes on the grass, you have to bring your own bag and pick it up. If you finish your candy bar and throw down your wrapper you should be fined. The same should go for smokers who throw down their butts.
posted by justgary at 10:08 AM on June 8, 2005


Where I live, there are big street cleaning machines. Since they exist, I toss my butts on the sidewalk. Also, there are plenty of city-employees that walk around with the scoopers and brooms to sweep up the much nastier things on the sidewalk (condoms and dried vomit, for instance). If it's going to get cleaned up and sent to the same place that the binned-garbage goes, well...


But on the other hand, butts are the only things that I litter. No wrappers, no bottles, no paper bags, nothing like that at all. I'll put them in my pocket until I find a trashcan. Butts are tiny, gross, smelly things that I like to get away from ASAP. Us smokers already smell a little funny. If we start carrying our stinky cigarette butts in our pockets, you won't be able to stand next to us even when we're not lighting up. Burning butts also tend to set things on fire. Into the gutter, they go...
posted by Jon-o at 10:14 AM on June 8, 2005


We also have folks who clean up the sidewalk here, and the vast majority of their job involves picking up butts. I wonder what the savings would be if there were no butts on the sidewalk, and where that money could be spent instead?

That said, I'm very much with the folks who say this isn't necessarily a smoker's issue--it's just a human issue.
posted by frykitty at 10:33 AM on June 8, 2005


I know either street sweepers or the sewers will eventually trash it for me

The storm sewers typically do not lead to a sewage treatment plant. Your buttend will land in a lake or river. Not good.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:44 AM on June 8, 2005


Justgary: Nothing ruins a walk on the beach more than finding a butt in your path.

Nothing? Really? Not massive amounts of medical waste washed up on the beach? Not a huge oil spill? Not broken beer bottles slicing hell out of your feet? Etc?

Stating that cigarette butts are some how much worse than anything else EVAR pretty much justifies Hummus' initial comment about anti-smoking lynch mobs.
posted by dersins at 10:50 AM on June 8, 2005


On beach cleanups a good percentage of the garbage collected is cigarette butts. Now if you're smoking on the beach you're surrounded by sand which makes it's very easy to reliably extinguish the cigarette. On city beaches there's generally a trash can very near the path back to your car so I don't buy either the "I can't throw a burning cigarette away" argument or the "I don't know where a trash can is" argument.
posted by rdr at 10:52 AM on June 8, 2005


Because smoking is all about looking cool, and throwing your butt out the car window is badass. Seriously.
posted by mai at 11:07 AM on June 8, 2005


I am going to smoke, and I am going to toss my butts in the street. If you don't like it, too f'n bad (I will however use an ashtray/smoke stop if one is provided).
posted by helvetica at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2005


At the risk of injecting some heat in amongst all this light, I have known smokers who go out of their way not to toss butts on the ground. One I know would break off the filter, grind the (presumably more rapidly degrading) remaing tobacco and paper out under his foot and stick the filter in a ziploc he kept in his pocket.
posted by phearlez at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2005


Smokers have already accepted that they're going to irritate other people, and decided that this is not their problem. Really, it would be a little weird if they didn't litter.
posted by nicwolff at 11:41 AM on June 8, 2005


Ha. How was that even considered for the best answer?
posted by helvetica at 11:47 AM on June 8, 2005


I have a severe allergy to nicotine, and a single cigarette from close proximity but all second-hand is more than enough to kill me before I could get to the hospital.

I have heard the arguments, even here on MeFi that second hand smoke won't actually harm you, but I am living proof to the contrary.

Still, when someone is smoking around me, I pretty much have to say something, at which point the near universal reaction is "How dare you tell me what I can do to my body." The times that I have pointed out that their liberty ends at the point of harming others (and having been warned it is therefore deliberate if they don't stop), I am most commonly treated with hostility, including but not limited to vulgarity, breathing a plume directly into my face (which has hospitalized me 3 times), burning me with the cigarette, and even punching me (only once).

I used to believe that the people who smoke were all either blissfully inconsiderate or genuinely unaware of what damage they cause. While it is true that many are, I have had to switch over the years to an attitude that many smokers won't be told that they can't no matter what the consequences to others; It's a freedom thing, and theirs will always be considrered to trump all others in their minds.

Throwing butts about, however, is often a very different matter. Almost every smoker I know would quickly respond that they would gladly throw it out proper provided appropriate receptacles in easy access. If it's more than 20 steps or requires any effort that would take them away from a task they're deeply involved with, it will get tossed plain and simple. It is laziness on one sense, unavailability of resources on another, and impracticality on a third (like when driving). It might not be right, but at least most are willing to admit it and say that they try.
posted by mystyk at 12:11 PM on June 8, 2005


That was totally the best answer.

If you want butts off the street, provide a fucking place to put them.

Oh, but no one wants to encourage the smokers and their nasty, vile, disguisting, revolting, unseemly, sad, pathetic, inhuman habit by putting out a public ashtray. Ergo, butts on ground.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:11 PM on June 8, 2005


I remember that, back in the seventies, it was considered perfectly alright to crush out a butt on the floor of a supermarket.

As I see it, we're progressing, in this particular area, from barbarism to civility, but we're doing so slowly and haven't reached the goal yet.
posted by Clay201 at 12:12 PM on June 8, 2005


I used to smoke and at first I would toss my butts anywhere. Heck, in order to hide my addiction I wouldn't even use my own car ashtray (yeah, I know it can't be hidden), and would throw the butts out the window. Even though I still smoked for another 8 years or so I stopped tossing them when I started doing some work for Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, and participated in Coastal Cleanup Days. I learned that stormdrains aren't filtered and that everything I tossed out the window eventually would make it into the bay. After that I would pinch off the butt when I was done and either find a trash can or stick them in my pocket until I found one. My clothes stank even more than they did before, but that I still felt better about not polluting anything besides my lungs. And the smell helped me want to quit even sooner.
posted by terrapin at 12:17 PM on June 8, 2005


civil_disobedient: I guess you're right. (or I'm right)

Here in Toronto, they have large 3 compartment (garbage, recycling, newspaper) containers on almost every cornner. And if I remember correctly, they just replaced a bunch of them. I'm surprised they don't even have a thing to butt your cigarette out with to put in the trash compartment (still might lead to setting the bin on fire).

Also, in Bermuda, they do have a circular area on top of the street bins which is for extinguishing the cigarette, and I never noticed a bin on fire.
posted by helvetica at 12:22 PM on June 8, 2005


I marked it as the best answer because it seemed the most honest.

What's wrong with putting the (extinguished) butts back in your cigarette packet until you can dispose of them safely? A friend of mine who used to smoke pretty frequently would do that, and it made quite an impression on me. (I hadn't thought twice about what to do with the butts until then.)
posted by UKnowForKids at 12:28 PM on June 8, 2005


It really depends on where you're from. Back when I was a smoker and lived in NY (80s and early 90s), I got used to tossing the damn things on the street and stepping them out. When I moved to Seattle in '93 I got taken to task for that the first time it did, and I mean HARD. I then grew accustomed to stubbing the things out and then carrying the nasty old butts around with me until I found a trash can. Kept this habit up, and always encouraged others to do the same until I quit smoking in 1999.
posted by psmealey at 12:38 PM on June 8, 2005


I don't smoke. I drink soda and eat fast food. I'll use the same excuse that all of the smokers here are using and just toss the garbage out the window from now on.

And if you don't like it, too f'n bad...
posted by eas98 at 12:41 PM on June 8, 2005


Stating that cigarette butts are some how much worse than anything else EVAR pretty much justifies Hummus' initial comment about anti-smoking lynch mobs.

Oh foo, you know perfectly well what he meant by that statement. If I say "nothing ruins the movie-going experience more than a screaming baby" you wouldn't complain I'd left out gunfire or the theatre catching fire. You'd understand that I meant "in the realm of common occurrences."

Or perhaps I have had better beach-going experiences than you in that I can count my experiences with medical waste, broken bottles and giant oil spills on one hand. YBMMV I suppose.
posted by phearlez at 12:45 PM on June 8, 2005


False analogy, eas98. There are trash cans on most city street corners. It would be trivial for the city to purchase trash cans with built-in ashtrays, but for some reason they don't (possibly because they wish to discourage smoking, but there could be a myriad of other reasons).

Just to clarify, I agree that tossing butts on the ground is tantamount to littering. When I'm on a beach, I stub the cigarette out in the sand and pocket the butt. Same thing when I'm walking through a forest/nature preserve/places where one wouldn't expect trash cans.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:55 PM on June 8, 2005


I don't really understand the trashcan thing - if you discard the burning part on the ground, why can't the butt go in the trash? At least the ash will disperse on the ground.

Just wondering.
posted by agregoli at 1:03 PM on June 8, 2005


What I used to see a lot of in Japan (land of smokers) is little silvery metal ashtrays with a flip open lid. When open, it looked like a regular metal ashtray, but when closed it was a sealed pocketable container, sorta like this

I'm surprised various tobacco companies don't try to market things like this with their brands on 'em. I wish they would, 'cause butts on the ground is a peeve.
posted by birdsquared at 1:21 PM on June 8, 2005


I throw my butts on the ground, and grind them into oblivion. But, I smoke non-filtered cigarettes.

On the rare occasions when I smoke filtered cigarettes, I field strip them and either pocket the butt or toss them into a trashcan.

I hate seeing filters on the ground. but, broken glass, used diapers, used condoms and plastic items offend me a lot more.
posted by QIbHom at 1:27 PM on June 8, 2005


I have nothing against smokers. I don't mind secondhand smoke. While I don't find it to be the nicest habit, I don't think it's any better or worse than any number of other habits that don't seem to carry the same societal disdain. Count me out of the anti-smokers lynch mob. But ...

... I don't understand just tossing a cigarette butt on the ground or out the car window. If there's not an ashtray provided, why not just put the cigarette out and then throw away the butt when you find a trashcan? It just seems like pure arrogance and/or laziness to toss the butt wherever you please.
posted by marcusb at 2:11 PM on June 8, 2005


I don't smoke. I drink soda and eat fast food. I'll use the same excuse that all of the smokers here are using and just toss the garbage out the window from now on.

In my city I probably find more bags of eaten fast food tossed on the ground than butts. It's really pathetic. I have the "pleasure" of driving home at 4:00 am many days, and I can't imagine a drive where there aren't several bags of Wendy's, McDonald's, etc strewn across the middle of the street. Even in the middle of the country, several miles away I see this.

The parking lots of fast food restaurants are even worse. :-( There's a 24/7 McDonald's near me which I'll take a picture of someday. Not a single parking space without large piles of litter on it. Nasty.

I think officers need to start handing out littering tickets like candy. If they have time to set up traps to bust people for speeding, they have PLENTY, PLENTY, PLENTY of time to bust people for littering.

At least without the styrofoam containers I can look forward to it being re-absorbed into the ground in a few years.
posted by shepd at 2:32 PM on June 8, 2005


To sum up: Putting the cigarette butt in your pocket is gross and makes you smell bad, but smoking the cigarette is cool.
posted by Crushinator at 2:41 PM on June 8, 2005


One I know would break off the filter, grind the (presumably more rapidly degrading) remaing tobacco and paper out under his foot and stick the filter in a ziploc he kept in his pocket.

Was this person ex-military? Because soldiers are taught to do that so as not to leave traces of their presence for enemy soldiers to detect.
posted by jonmc at 4:36 PM on June 8, 2005


That 'best answer' is obviously a case of choosing the answer you were looking for. Honestly I think most smokers have never really thought about it. People pick up the habits that go along with certain actions. After smoking a cigarette on a city street, one drops it and steps on it, and then goes inside... Not to make a point, but just because that's what people learned to do. When 'everyone' smoked, cigarette butts seemed like small, innocuous trash, and because you have to drop them to stomp them out, putting them in the trash would require further action for what was seen as a small and common thing.

If consciousness is raised about it, I would bet a good percentage of smokers would alter habits. It has never really been considered an issue on city streets (though most smokers I know will remove filters when in a national park or something). The idea above for a combo lighter / neutralizer thing above is a good one

Actually, I would say chewing gum is a just as common and much less easily cleaned form of trash a lot of people thoughtlessly leave behind. All those little black circles that seem like tar spots on the sidewalk / subway platform are old bits of gum people spit onto the cement.
posted by mdn at 7:40 PM on June 8, 2005


Christ, just carry a freaking empty altoids tin with you and stamp it out in that. Then empty periodically.

Since cigarette cases are all the vogue, why isn't this?
posted by Eideteker at 7:52 PM on June 8, 2005


I do not smoke. If I did, I would not toss the butts on the ground. I do not toss gum, small wrappers, or anything on the ground--it's simply not polite. I also pick up after my dog.

Call me excessive, but it it really that hard? Don't litter. Full stop.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:19 PM on June 8, 2005


We do it because it winds up non-smokers.
posted by anagrama at 4:13 AM on June 9, 2005


I smoke like a chimney. But, I roll my own, and so they're pretty damn biodegradable. Add in a little boot-crush, and they're indistinguishable from the dirt on the sidewalk.

As far as filtered cigarettes go, most people don't think. You finish smoking, you drop it, smoosh it, and life goes on. It's just what you do, because the shit's ON FIRE and you have to do something to put it out. It's not like I can carry it back into the office and throw it away without putting it out.

But, If I'm smoking filtereds and there's an ashtray within 50', I'll usually use it.

Putting the butt in your pocket, or bringing it inside, is gross. I mean, I smoke, I enjoy the taste and smell of (good) tobacco. However, the smell of a butt is fucking awful--and strong. Happens all the time that guys get on the bus with a short, and you can smell it from the back the moment they step in. An office trashcan filled up with cigarette butts would smell like death itself.

Note: I regularly grind out my butts on the floor of my dive bar. But, you know, we're punkrock like that.

mystyk: I think that you might be approaching it incorrectly. Walking up to a smoker and saying, "Don't do that, you don't have the right to affect my air," is likely to get you punched, as you've seen.

However, if your problem is that vaporized nicotine will kill you, that's how you should lead.

I'd probably flip shit on you if you started with some sort of don't smoke bullshit. But, if you said, "Please, don't smoke around me. I am allergic to it, and exposure to nicotine is literally life-threatening for me."

What you're talking about is radically different from people complaining about second-hand smoke. You'll literally die, there, in the moment if you get too large a dosage.

Most non-smokers who complain about second-hand smoke go 99% of their lives in totally smoke-free air at work, in their cars, at home, in the non-smoking section of restaurants. I feel almost no remorse when smoking around these people. If you can't deal with a smell for a few minutes, chances are you aren't worth my time. 5 minutes of exposure, even if it's everyday for your entire life, isn't going to cause any damage.

There's nothing especially noxious about tobacco smoke. Some people find the smell unpleasant, I guess. But that's not my problem. I don't have any responsibility to be mindful of other people's tastes, only their safety.

The second-hand smoke studies that show it's harmful are almost all related to people who work every day of their lives around people smoking constantly. For instance, a bartender probably smokes more second-hand than I do first-hand in a day. These studies have almost nothing to do with sharing a bus stop with a smoker, or even just going to the bar.

On preview: You also have some responsibility to exit the situation before you ask somebody to stop smoking. Just like you have rights, they have rights not to have their actions interefered with. If walking an extra fifteen feet, or moving upwind removes you from the path of the smoke, you should do that.

If it's inside, you're in a meeting, on a date, whatever, it makes sense. If you have to be with the person or there's no way to get away and still accomplish what you need to get done, then by all means ask.
posted by Netzapper at 8:37 AM on June 9, 2005


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