Cigarettes: An obsession

You could say I’m obsessed with cigarettes. Litter, that is. I’ve been obsessed for two years now, and I’m still learning new things and trying new ideas.

In the summer of 2013, I met the most inspiring woman- Gillian Montgomery- at a Warm Current surf camp for kids and while talking about Surfrider initiatives, she told me cigarette butts are plastic. My mind was blown! I always excused cigarette littering because I thought they were biodegradable. Whenever I think about this moment, I remember that Big Tobacco excels at deception- the butts are brown like cardboard, and when they get wet, they just look like wet cotton tampons. Certainly they appear biodegradable. You fooled us once, BT, and then you fooled us twice!

Through the following fall and winter, I kept bringing up cigarette litter at Surfrider meetings, doing my research, and taking action, and in the summer of 2013 with 2 other committee members we launched “Hold On To Your Butts”. I met with Seattle Parks staff who agreed to install and maintain 2 cigarette butt receptacles at Alki. Our launch day to educate the public was documented by a local blog but didn’t quite get the attention I was looking for. It took another year to build momentum, and the program still hasn’t achieved even a side note in a big paper.

This year, I’m proud to share a few more accomplishments. I’ve worked with 3 student interns through UW who are doing excellent outreach, presented our program to other Surfrider chapters, we have sold 6 ash cans to local businesses, completed a “Walk of Shame”, and our chapter raised $1300 to donate 18 ash cans to West Seattle (6 to Parks, 12 to the Junction Association).

And yet as we achieve more accomplishments, I am hungry for more, for the program to grow out of its britches. I am hungry for someone else, many someone elses, to join this effort. I monitor local papers for our press releases, and yet, I still only see coverage on small blogs. What will I have to do to get the attention of someone at the Seattle Times? Dress up like a cigarette and roll around in the sand at Alki?

And I always have more questions- so I go online, do some Google Scholar research, and start asking people questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no big effort against Big Tobacco, no easy way to find validated answers to my questions. Even one of my most recent finds- that San Franciso spends $5 million/year on cigarette litter is hard to compare to Seattle when we haven’t done that study.

So here’s a few questions on my mind this week you may be able to help with: What is even the appeal with filters? Do smokers really like them or would they be interested in banning filtered cigarettes? (because the filters claim to fame was for health, yet they have not been proven to improve a smoker’s health outcomes) If we tax each pack in WA over $3, is any of that money going to litter prevention, education, or management? Is it worth going after that tax money to push for the government to provide receptacles? What do you know about all this?

-B

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