Sunday, July 27, 2008

Smoking litter - a new problem?

A few weeks ago, I had to go down to the city core to sign some legal documents. By the time I got downtown, found a parking space and walked up the street to the lawyer’s office, I was ready for a smoke. The problem was that there was a sign at the entrance to the building housing the lawyer’s office that read, “No smoking within 9 metres of front door”.

I turned south and started pacing off the distance to the fenced in patio of a small restaurant.

“You’re two metres short”, grinned the waitress awaiting me at the patio entrance.

I glanced from the front door of the office building to the curb, visually trying to calculate the distance.

“Uh-uh”, said the waitress, “you’ll be two metres into the street; could be hazardous to your health. And, if you go north, you’ll wind up in the middle of Pete’s patio”.

The grin had turned to a chuckle and I recognized a kindred spirit. “OK”, I asked, “where do you go to smoke?”

“The alley”, she replied, “there’s a chain link fence about three feet in, but you’re not on the sidewalk and nobody will bother you”.

I said “Thanks”, gave her a “thumbs up”, and retired to the smoking area. As I lit up my Putter’s Light, I noted a six inch pile of cigarette butts littering the alley along the bottom of the chain link fence. Must be a popular spot, I thought.

I took a deep drag and ruminated on one of those “public service” bulletins I’d seen in Ottawa At least, I think it was Ottawa. But the anti-smoker zealots are everywhere these days.
  • A cigarette butt takes 15 years to decompose. Please put your cigarette butts in an ashtray or a butt stop. Cigarettes are litter and do not belong on the ground.
  • Every year, Canadian smokers toss away nearly 8,000 tonnes of butts.
  • Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of birds, dogs, cats, and squirrels.
  • Please dispose of cigarette butts and litter properly!
How in the hell are we supposed to put our butts in an ashtray or butt stop when the smoke police have removed the bloody lot of them? And, are we really expected to believe that they performed autopsies on road kill to see if they had devoured any cigarette butts?

There’s simply no way to dispose of a butt properly when the means of proper disposal have been removed.

The incident was still fresh in my mind when I read an article written by Michelle Lang in the July 12, 2008 edition of the Calgary Herald.

“City targets litter bugs”, blared the headline.

Calgarians, apparently, are fed up with litter bugs, prompting city council to propose by-law amendments to crack down on the problem. People caught dumping their trash, tossing garbage out their car windows or flicking burning cigarette butts on the ground could face fines ranging from $300 to $750.

The stiffest penalties will be reserved, of course, for smokers who improperly discard burning cigarette butts. A report prepared for city council said lit cigarette butts are causing grass and bush fires. Uh-huh.

Although I haven’t been to Calgary in five years, I can recall a beautiful city in the bend of the Bow River. But, I don’t recall a lot of brush on the city streets. And, the grass was green for the most part, at least on the city streets and parks I saw. I have a hard time believing a pedestrian tossing a butt onto the asphalt covered street creates a serious fire hazard. But, any excuse is better than none.

First, they kick us out of bars and restaurants and into the street. Then they remove the means of disposing of cigarette butts safely, without litter. Now, they want to hit smokers with heavy fines for disposing of butts in the only way left.

Since the disposal of cigarette butts is only now becoming a problem, perhaps the city should commission a study to see if there is any association with the initiation of smoking bans in Alberta (and across Canada, for that matter).

But, why waste the money? I suspect the proposed changes to the littering by-law are just another way for the anti-smoker brigade to take a cheap shot at smokers.

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