PC 234 No Buts …… No Butts

I suspect we can all look back on our lives and think how, if we had known then what we know now, we wouldn’t have done what we did back then? For example, there was no breathalyser and I know most people drank and drove; “Oh! I will be fine! I have only had three!” Well of course it wasn’t fine and a number of people died as a result of people drinking alcohol and then jumping into the driving seat. Believe it or not, the introduction of the breathalyser was as far back at 1967, introduced by a fiery politician called Barbara Castle. Now the majority of us don’t ‘Drink and Drive’.

Front seat belts were compulsory equipment for all new cars registered in the UK in 1968 but it took another 15 years for it to become compulsory for them to be worn! Now it’s rare to see someone NOT wearing one.

And if you smoked, as I did, you had a choice with what to do the cigarette butts. Indoors, I had a whole range of ashtrays – silver, earthenware or glass for instance or the empty beer can (yuck!). If you smoked in your car, you could stub the cigarette out in the ashtray, which then required you to empty and clean it …… or simply open the window a fraction and let the slipstream whip it away – to wherever it went; it didn’t seem your concern! In the same way when sailing and it was Gin & Tonic time (ie every hour). If the tonic came in glass bottles, the game was to launch the empty Gin bottle into the air and throw the empty glass bottles at it, trying to smash it. Such fun! No thought to the bottles sinking to the bottom. Now we are aware this is not right!

A week ago the local paper, The Argus, ran a story about a Council Warden chasing a woman onto a bus; the woman had thrown her cigarette butt on the pavement and that’s against local bylaws. She wasn’t charged but the social media storm contained, as it always seems to, every shade of opinion, some vitriolic and others of the ‘leave her alone’ type and how the authorities should be worrying about more serious things.

This news item prompted these scribbles as, every morning on my way back with my newspaper, I pass the Smart Sea View Brighton Hotel. This is a misnomer, as it’s in Hove and not Brighton and it looks like a real dump certainly from the outside; smart? Nah! Anyway, the smoking staff and visitors prefer to throw their butt ends onto the pavement – as they have always done!

The figures are interesting. Here in the UK twenty six billion cigarettes were sold in 2019 to the seven million people, 14% of the population, who still smoke (Note 1). That number is fortunately decreasing annually, as is the number of cigarettes each smoke, down to below 15 a day. In 2007 smoking was banned in pubs and restaurants which, as a now non-smoker, I welcomed. But it produced a dichotomy; if you wanted to sit outside on a summer’s day and have lunch on the terrace or in the pub garden, you had to put up with the second-hand smoke that drifted across your grilled sole. Or go inside!

It’s been recognised for decades that smoking is not good for your health and yet people still smoke: “It’s my right, my choice! I know it’s bad for me but I enjoy it.” Here the health figures speak for themselves: 400,000 cases of respiratory disease, 775,000 cases of circulatory disease and 360,000 cases of cancer – all caused by smoking.

Effects to mitigate the harmful effects of burning tobacco resulted in the filter, introduced in the 1950s. If ever you needed a visual demonstration of the stuff you were sucking into your lungs, you only had to look at the end of the filter! Interesting, my brother’s Royal Navy career encompassed a time when cheap filter-less cigarettes, a unique brand called Senior Service, were available. That 200 year old tradition ended on 1988.

The disposal of the butt was always an issue, but everyone was ignorant of the problem. The cigarette filter is 99% cellulose acetate which is a plastic. We have changed our thinking about plastic bags and about plastic straws and now we need to focus on how we get rid of our butts.

For those who still smoke, I imagine they are aware of the health risks but enjoy it too much for them to quit. The Singaporean Government has banned smoking in certain areas of the city and fines heavily those who throw their cigarette butt into the street; it seems society accepts this and the city streets are remarkably clean. Here in the UK the government has a target to create a smoke-free society by 2030; given some people’s continuing love of smoking, good luck with that! (Note 2) But smokers need to understand how to dispose of their butts in a more environmentally-friendly way. Currently most butts are washed into gutters by rain and thence to the oceans, creating a plastic hazard for marine life.

There’s an adage – “Take care of the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves.’ If we can change habits about the disposal of the tiny butt, maybe those habits will also translate into dealing more considerately with other rubbish, such as pizza boxes or burger wrappers.

Discarding your cigarette stub has been described as “The Last Acceptable form of Littering”. Let’s all try to make this completely unacceptable and a rare event, like not wearing your seat belt or drinking and then driving. So no “But ….”; just “No Butts!”

Richard 11th June 2021


Note 1 Up until 1975 the British billion was a million million. Now we use the American-driven definition of a thousand million.

Note 2 Cigarettes here cost over £10 for a packet of 20; 80% of this is government tax. One way for the government to further discourage smoking would be to make them prohibitively expensive.

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