Keep Your Butts Off Our Beaches

Recently a columnist in a local Southeastern Connecticut newspaper wrote about the things that bug him when driving. It included the usual gripes that we all have—people driving slowly in the passing lane, failure to use turn signals, merging on the highway with little consideration of the traffic already on the highway, able-bodied people parking in handicapped designated spaces and so on. One thing missing from the list was my pet peeve: people who throw cigarette butts out the window. Much to my wife’s and adult kids’ humiliation, whenever I see someone do it, I honk the horn and suggest that they use the ashtray in their car. For the most part my yelling out the window is not heard, or it’s greeted as though I’m


some lunatic who they would do best to avoid. In the few cases when the message gets through, I’m either ignored or greeted with one half a peace sign.

Let me point out here that this is not an anti-smoking rant. During college I was a two-pack-a-day Lucky Strike smoker.  I loved it and found quitting in my late 20s really hard to do.

I first realized the problem cigarette butts create for the marine environment when I organized the clean-up of Ocean Beach Park in New London for many years in the 1990s. This was done as part of the National Beach Sweep program where volunteers pick up and catalogue the type of trash found on beaches all over the country. At Ocean Beach, as they did on most other beaches, cigarette butts ranked number one every year. One year, two cadets from the Coast Guard Academy set a goal of picking up 1000 butts. I don’t remember if they made it, but if they didn’t I’m sure they came awfully close.  According to Keep America Beautiful, Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes than ever before, yet cigarette butts continue to be the most commonly littered item in the United States and around the world today, with tobacco products comprising 38% of all U.S. roadway litter. Download the fact sheet

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