Cigarette butts should not be an exception to littering

It is nearly impossible to go one day without seeing cigarette butts on campus sidewalks. Wherever you go, there are clumps of butts stuck in sidewalk cracks or plastered to the sidewalk by recent rains.

So, when did cigarette butt littering become acceptable?

As a general rule, littering is not acceptable. Somehow though, cigarette butt littering continues.

It is evident across campus, and it’s time for cigarette butt littering to stop.

Cigarette butts are not found only on campus, but in practically every city in the United States. According to Keep America Beautiful, a national nonprofit organization, “…cigarette butts remain the most littered item — in the U.S. and across the globe.”

In most states in the United States, littering is illegal — including cigarette butts.

Illinois House Bill 3243, now labels cigarette butts as litter. And as of Jan. 1, 2014, littering a single cigarette butt as a first-time conviction will result in a class B misdemeanor with a fine of no more than $1,500.

The University of Illinois is also going smoke-free on Jan. 1, 2014. Smoking will even be banned in private vehicles parked on campus-owned streets, lots and garages.

The regulation was enacted out of health concerns, especially through second-hand smoke. Additionally, those behind the ban also hope to reduce cigarette butt litter.

Even without these credible reasons of health and litter harms to support the ban, the nature of smoking is enough to have the ban.

Think of how many times you have walked across campus, trailing behind someone smoking, and their smoke sweeps back into your face, making it difficult to breathe. Think about the number of cigarette butts lying on the ground. At one time, someone had those in their mouth, then just decided to leave them on the ground. That is almost as gross as seeing a used Band-Aid lying on the ground.

Before a cigarette butt is even littered, the act of smoking itself causes great harm to the smoker and even the people surrounding the smoker.

Despite the smoker’s health, according to a Frequently Asked Questions page on the Illinois Campus Recreation website, “Secondhand tobacco smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Closer to home, an estimated 2,900 Illinois citizens die each year from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.”

Cigarette butt littering is also harmful to the environment.

Keeping America Beautiful also reports that, “About 95 percent of cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic which does not quickly degrade and can persist in the environment.” The litter often travels to waterways, clogging storm drains. And waterways are not the only aspect of nature harmed, as “Cigarette butt litter can also pose a hazard to animals and marine life when they mistake filters for food.”

For too long, smokers have seemed to be an exception to the general rule that littering is wrong.

Compare a form of litter, like fast food wrappers, to cigarette butts.

On a daily basis, cigarette butts are far more evident. I see fast food wrappers on the busier parts of Green Street, but rarely find them on the Quad. I find cigarette butts all across campus: In the stretch between the Main Library and Gregory Hall, I counted about 10 cigarette butts.

Imagine that density spread across campus. They land all over, on the sidewalks, in the grass and in apartment complexes.

Seeing so many cigarette butts all over makes it seem as though cigarette butt littering has become acceptable. If it is not acceptable, then why are there so many cigarette butts scattered across campus?

This is because it is difficult to enforce. Officials cannot follow smokers around every second of the day to make sure they dispose of their cigarette butts properly. It seems impractical.

Maybe it does not have to be impractical, though.

One way to reduce cigarette butt littering is through awareness. In April, a group of students organized by Blooms Not Butts, an environmental campaign, “collected almost 22 pounds of tobacco litter during a two-hour period.” Teams of students constructed displays using tobacco products and cigarette butts in the Environmental Expo to raise awareness of the harmful effects of these products.

Since then, it seems as though there has not been as much awareness about the harms of cigarette butt littering. But soon there will be a constant reminder: the University-wide smoking ban.

While details on how the ban will be enforced are not yet clear, there is a conscious decision to go right to the source of cigarette butt littering: the act of smoking.

Cigarette butts are not going to disappear from campus overnight, but cigarette butts will disappear when cigarette butts, along with smoking, are no longer acceptable on campus.

Rebecca is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]