Gripe: Butts


Today will feature my first formal gripe for the blog. It’s something that’s been bugging me for a couple of weeks now, and I figure the best place to exorcise it will be the blog. I imagine it’s the kind of thing that might alienate some of the readers, but that depends on what kind of smoker you are.

I’d like to be able to say that I don’t see any of the appeal in smoking, but I can understand why some people choose to take it up. The “cool” factor that revolves around smoking is part of the zeitgeist. The tobacco companies did their jobs extremely well through the 20th century. There is a legacy of badassery that surrounds smoking. It’s a very devil-may-care mystique that even persists despite all the massive health dangers that have been exposed.

I can only assume that the nihilist James Deany cool that accompanies a cigarette are what cause what seem to be a majority of smokers to litter with abandon — and this is my gripe.

I’m going to go ahead and say that just about any smoker you talk to would say that they are not litterbugs. They wouldn’t just drop papers out of their car on the freeway, or crumple up a fast food bag and just leave it lying in the middle of the ground in a parking lot. But for some reason, it appears that most smokers don’t believe that a cigarette butt counts towards the littering charge.

It’s true that I’m generalizing a really broad group of people, but this isn’t some snap observation I’ve made. We had a new guy move into our apartment building the other day. He’s a smoker, and can’t smoke inside. He’s clearly following the rules there, as we see him out front by the curb smoking… but now there’s an ever-increasing pile of cigarette butts just laying by the curb now where he stands. I frequently see smokers driving down the freeway tossing butts from their moving vehicles. Just last week I was parked next to a woman sitting in her car smoking, and she just flicked her butt away before driving off. I’ve hung around with acquaintances who have decided they want to light up, and before they head off to their car to leave, they just flick their butt to the ground. I’ve even started to find spent butts in the underground garage at work.

Why is it considered okay to do this? Cigarette butts are the kind of trash that in aggregate comprise a massive amount of trash. According to the Ocean Conservancy Cleanup Group, butts and other tobacco product trash (packaging, cigars, etc.) amount for 38% of the world’s total debris [numbers from here]. That’s what we in the science community like to refer to as a “shit-ton”.

Is it so hard to spend 30 seconds to walk over to an ash tray to discard your butt? Or to put it in your car’s ash tray? And if you flick your butt out of the car because you don’t want your car to smell like smoke… shouldn’t that tell you something about your habit?

I was at the mall recently and there was an outdoor sort of kiosk area (I say “sort of” as it was actually more of a tent) where massages were being offered. A man was at the register of this tent, working there and clearly recording some sales numbers onto a sheet. He was smoking and as I walked past, he flicked his spent cigarette butt right past me, towards the ash tray that was about 10 feet away from him. He missed. He did not venture to pick it up. Essentially he had no problem leaving cigarette butt litter around his place of business.

I just don’t get it.

I imagine I’ll hear from friends of mine who smoke or have smoke and they’ll say to me that they police their butts (which is an awesome phrase, for the record). But what defence can someone who engages in this practice offer, I wonder? I’m guessing it will involve something like “Hey, go to hell”, because I’ve tried to come up with a good reason and can’t find one other than “I don’t care”. And that’s what’s really depressing to me.

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  1. #1 by Abby on September 14, 2009 - 9:16 PM

    Great rant! I have always wondered the same thing. A co-worker once told me that every time he threw a butt on the ground it was like a little “f- you” to the world because he assumed the world was judging him for smoking. That’s a pretty stupid, childish justification in my opinion.

  2. #2 by Badmoodman on September 15, 2009 - 1:39 PM

    “…every time he threw a butt on the ground it was like a little “f- you” to the world because he assumed the world was judging him for smoking.”

    – – Nope, that verdict’s been rendered.

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