It's no fun sailing through cigarette butts

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 04/27/02)
By Ray Pendleton

At first I was speechless and then I was cursing under my breath.

Just ahead of me, at a signal on Ala Wai, a well-dressed man in an expensive car had opened his door and dumped the contents of his ashtray onto the road. And this was on Earth Day, no less.

How could anyone be that ignorant or arrogant?, I thought.

After all, it doesn't take an intellectual giant to understand that with the next rainfall, all of those cigarette butts will be quickly washed into our waterways and become a hazard for sea life as well as an eyesore for us all.

I tried to console myself with the thought that this man's action wasn't so much different than those of all of the smokers who toss their butts out one at a time.

There are plenty of those, as the numerous butt-drifts along our roadways indicate.

But somehow this was different. It wasn't an unthinking flick of a butt. This individual had consciously decided to dump his accumulated litter on the street, rather than into a proper receptacle.

According to antilitter organizations like, most smokers who litter use various rationales for their actions.

Some will say the butts are biodegradable.

Wrong, says the organization. Cigarette filters are made of a type of cellulose acetate that takes years to break down, the residue trapped in them is toxic and they have an adverse effect on the environment.

Even the giant tobacco company Philip Morris has made a recent statement acknowledging those facts.

Other smokers will say there's nothing else they can do with the butts but toss them.

That may have been true once, but now there are several products on the market to be used as pocket ashtrays. One, called the Cigarette Tube, can be used to collect butts, or even to save half-used cigarettes for later use.

Often smokers will rationalize their littering by maintaining the small size of the butt is barely noticeable.

They should be aware that an estimated 4 1/2 trillion butts are flicked away by careless smokers every year, making it the most commonly collected litter in the U.S. and the world.

Another reason smokers give for littering is that it somehow lets them get even for being over taxed and made to smoke outdoors. counters this by pointing out that littering is a very short-sighted and ineffective way to send a message to non-smoking activists and lawmakers, and it could eventually result in even more stringent measures being placed on them.

This last point made me consider Honolulu's new smoking ban for restaurants that becomes law in July.

Once it takes effect, we can only hope restaurant owners will establish areas for smokers outside with an ample number of ashtrays.

The picture of scores of people having an after-dinner smoke and then pitching their butts into nearest gutter or storm drain is almost as bad as the view I had of the ashtray-emptying car driver.

And especially if its occurring in front of every restaurant in town.

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