Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Cigarette butts - some loony proposals

Some shocking news from New Zealand...

Smoking bins being installed at the Greymouth railway station are being partly funded by British American Tobacco.

Pass the smelling salts. Is there no end to the schemes of these evil-doers?

Keep New Zealand Beautiful announced the bin deal on on September 30. The press release did not mention the link with the international tobacco giant.

Dirty, underhand stuff. Looks like Big Tobacco has been caught pushing their evil, er, litter bins on rail companies.

Or perhaps not...

Keep New Zealand Beautiful national programme manager Tracy Shackleton said KiwiRail had requested the bins.


"If a company rings up and requests the bin, we will, of course, oblige."


KiwiRail passenger general manager Deborah Hume said the company was not aware of the connection with British and American Tobacco.

So now what happens?

However, it agreed to accept the bins in order to address a litter and safety issue "and that still stands".

I see.


What was the problem again?

West Coast Tobacco Coalition chairwoman Anne Hines, in a letter to the head of KiwiRail, said butt bins normalised smoking.

Of course, it's an issue of denormalisation. There was I thinking that litter was a problem that could be alleviated with litter bins, but I forgot when when tobacco is involved the only solution is the stigmatisation of its users and the total eradication of cigarettes. How silly of me, and how silly of the train company to have made the same mistake.

The bins normalised smoking, and allowed tobacco companies to claim social responsibility, she said.

Actually, what 'normalises' smoking is all the smokers hanging around smoking after being forbidden from smoking for their entire train journey. And since, as already mentioned, the press release did not mention the tobacco company, they can hardly be accused of claiming social responsibility. Nevertheless, social responsibility is what we would call it from any other industry.

They did nothing to encourage people to stop smoking, which would reduce the number of discarded cigarette butts.

This may come as a shock to you, Anne, but not everything in the world is designed for the purposes of social engineering. However abnormal you may view the habit, 20% of New Zealanders continue to smoke and they do so in an increasingly limited number of places. In your excitable imagination, abolishing cigarette bins in designated smoking areas will make smokers think "there's nowhere to put this, I'd better give up smoking now", but here in the real world a lack of cigarette bins leads to lots of cigarette litter. If tobacco companies pay for some cigarette bins, the financial burden is shifted from the taxpayer to the smoker (because, of course, smokers fund the tobacco companies). This is an equitable solution to a negative externality. So, really, what is the problem?

The truth is that tobacco controllers like Ms Hines don't like cigarette bins because they are practical solutions to a simple problem. They prefer to deprive smokers of somewhere to put their litter and then portray them of being inconsiderate, socially irresponsible litter bugs. Like all neo-prohibitionists, they create a problem—in this instance, banning smoking in every indoor place and then abolishing cigarette bins outdoors—and then blame other people for the inevitable consequences.

Cigarette litter is a useful weapon to use against smokers, particularly now that outdoor smoking bans are a priority. A staggering amount of junk research has been produced on the topic this year alone (have a look). Take this article from the anti-smoking comic Tobacco Control for example. It encourages advocates to make alliances with environmental groups to capitalise on the cigarette litter 'problem' while attacking the tobacco industry for having the temerity to support tidy-street programmes. As with the New Zealand "news story", the article contains scandalous "revelations" about cigarette companies which don't exactly set the heart racing.

The tobacco industry has been concerned about cigarette butt litter as an issue since the 1970s; a 1979 Tobacco Institute memo stated that smokers’ ‘careless, offensive and occasionally harmful’ cigarette butt disposal practices were contributing to the declining acceptability of smoking. A decade later, the industry was concerned about the ‘potential for anti-smoking groups to seize [the litter] issue to attack cigarettes’.

They got that right then, didn't they? How very prescient.

The tobacco industry has responded to the litter issue through partnership with Keep America Beautiful (KAB), an anti-litter organisation.

Yet more secret funding and backroom dealings?

Er, no...

The industry has made no secret of its ties to KAB and similar organisations

Well, fine. Why should they? Cigarette butts are an important source of litter, as tobacco control groups are constantly telling us. So, what is to be done?

Currently, Philip Morris is funding KAB’s ‘Cigarette Litter Prevention Program’. This program has four strategies: increasing smoker awareness that ‘cigarette butts are litter ’; installing public ashtrays; promoting pocket ashtrays; and ‘encouraging enforcement of existing litter laws’.

In other words, treat cigarette litter the same as every other form of litter. Sounds fair enough. Other industries are expected to encourage responsible disposal of waste, why not the tobacco industry? The answer, apparently, is that...

Like secondhand smoke, litter is a consequence of smokers’ behaviour; the industry has no direct control over it.

That's rather contentious, to say the least, and also flatly at odds with the following sentence...

The tobacco industry has managed the litter issue to its advantage by blaming it on individuals and - as with other issues, including tobacco-related disease - denying its own responsibility.

So which is it? Is cigarette litter the result of individual behaviour which the industry has no control over, or is the industry responsible for cigarette litter while blaming helpless individuals? Or do the authors of this article have no coherent argument at all?

Industry-preferred ‘solutions’ to the litter problem are smoker education, installation of permanent ashtrays and distribution of pocket ashtrays. Although they implicitly blame smokers for litter, these approaches also enable smokers to keep smoking despite increased restrictions and declining social acceptability.

I case you hadn't noticed, smokers are able to smoke regardless of whether there are permanent ashtrays and do so in abundance. It's not a choice between a world with cigarette bins and a world of mass abstinence. It's a choice between lots of cigarette litter and less cigarette litter. The "industry-preferred" solutions are identical to governmental solutions used for every other form of litter: education and the provision of disposal units. No one would seriously argue that removing litter bins from the streets would result in the abolition of rubbish, so what makes cigarette butts any different?

The authors then proceed to give tips on how anti-smoking campaigners can infiltrate environmental groups on the pretext of being concerned about litter while actually pushing an abstinence-only message.

Allies should reach mutual understanding about the nature of the problem. An organisation focused on ‘litter ’ might regard ashtray installation as a reasonable solution.

No kidding. But what do they know, eh? As far the experts from Tobacco Control are concerned, these organisations are deluding themselves (and probably in the pay of Big Tobacco), so they need to be re-educated by the Johnny-come-latelys of the anti-smoking movement.

The environmental principles ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ should be foregrounded, ensuring that smoking prevention and cessation (ie, ‘reduce’) are considered fundamental.

That's right. Anti-smoking campaigners—who are not in the least bit interested in littering as an issue—are going to alter the decades-old environmental message of "reduce, reuse, recycle" and turn it into "reduce, reduce, reduce." The hubris of these people beggars belief. Take this gem of an idea, for example...

Legislation could require that a sealable return envelope be included with each pack sold, that retailers only accept returns in those containers

Recycling mandates and waste mitigation regulations are not ordinarily designed to curb use...

You're right. They're not, but a handful of monomaniacs briefly and disingenuously joining the environmental movement can change all that, right?

However, if laws requiring cigarette retailers to accept butts back for recycling cause them to stop selling cigarettes, this would also be a gain for tobacco control.

Amongst the many problems with this three-o'clock-in-the-morning idea is that the waste involved in manufacturing envelopes to be sold with every pack of cigarettes, combined with the energy used in posting cigarette butts around the world for no useful purpose, is far more environmentally destructive that a few butts on the pavement. And since the aim of this plan is explicitly to inconvenience smokers and shop-keepers, I suspect that even the looniest green activist will be happy to forego this "gain for tobacco control".

The authors also see a chance to pursue their usual objective of upping the price of cigarettes and limiting availability. If you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Waste mitigation programs may also raise the price of cigarettes, a well-established means of reducing smoking prevalence rates, and reduce the number of retailers willing or qualified to sell particular goods.

And the madness keeps on coming...

One idea that has not been tried is banning cigarette filters.


Filters have not been shown to reduce the harms of smoking.

Actually they have been shown to reduce the harms of smoking (I could write a whole post on this subject if anyone's interested). Filters are probably the only innovation in cigarette design to have helped reduce the harms of smoking in a century of searching, and yet here are alleged health campaigners recommending their abolition.

So let's get this straight. On the pretext of protecting public health, cigarettes need to be made more dangerous. On the pretext of environmentalism, countless trees need to be cut down to manufacture billions of pointless envelopes. On the pretext of reducing cigarette litter, smokers need to be deprived of litter bins.

How can anyone take these people seriously?


Jean said...

Speaking of the environment, hasn't anyone put forward the idea that smokers contribute to global warming with all the CO2 they produce?
I'd be surprised.

Anonymous said...

"Actually they have been shown to reduce the harms of smoking (I could write a whole post on this subject if anyone's interested). "

Please, please do. This is something I'd love to know.

Angry Exile said...

On the pretext of protecting public health, cigarettes need to be made more dangerous.

This is not all that new. The road safety mob have been doing it for years with their deliberate engineering of roads to be unnecessarily cluttered with obstructions by means of traffic calming schemes. I've always felt that it was the same kind of mentality as trying to get Usain Bolt to slow down be leaving a rake in his lane. I'm not surprised that the public health nannies have taken it up too.

As for the bins in the railways stations over the ditch, if seeing sharps disposal bins in public toilets wasn't becoming so common the Kiwi nannies might have something, but since most people accept that having old syringes lying around is the greater evil providing somewhere to dispose of them makes sense. So why not fag butts? Has tobacco finally been 'promoted' to worse than heroin?

Dick Puddlecote said...

"No one would seriously argue that removing litter bins from the streets would result in the abolition of rubbish"

Indeed, we've seen the experiment.

Anonymous said...

Cig butt litter, how big a problem?

A filter is about 1/10th of a cubic inch.

That would be 2,310 filters per gallon and a 30 gallon plastic trash bag would hold 76,230 filters/butts.

If butts were 1 per linear foot along a street,you would have to clean/walk 15 miles of streets to fill one 30 gallon plastic trash bag.

You had best bring food and drink.

Gary K.

Mag said...

“It encourages advocates to make alliances with environmental groups…..”
“The authors then proceed to give tips on how anti-smoking campaigners can infiltrate environmental groups….”

This has been occurring for some time. It’s about the only “strategy” in the fanatics’ repertoire. This is from the 6th World Conference on Smoking & Health (1987) – see Godber/WHO Blueprint:
“We must recognise that other individuals and groups will not necessarily approach the smoking issue from the same perspective, nor have the same priorities or methods. If what they are doing is likely to help our cause they are allies who must be respected and encouraged . We cannot produce a recipe and expect everyone to follow it but we can produce a general direction and strategy and encourage everyone to look for their own place in it and contribute as they can.”

“Groups not directly involved in the smoking issue but which are likely to be sympathetic can be targeted as a subculture and recruited as allies . Feminist groups are concerned about women and smoking, boy scouts or parent and citizens' groups will be interested in child smoking or cinema advertising . Environmental groups will be interested in deforestation, pesticides or air pollution .
Service clubs are usually looking for interesting speakers and take a pride in overall community welfare . The important thing is to tailor each presentation to the concerns of that group, so that the aspect of smoking that most concerns them is emphasised .

The cultivation of journalists, the writing and timing of press releases, the methods of keeping statements short and quotable so that they will be included in news bulletins are all part of the general topic of ‘media management’ which must be addressed by any group seriously interested in smoking control .”

“The Strategic Matrix
The last concept to discuss is the division of the action strategy into distinct campaigns. A matrix is suggested that lists non-smokers and allied groups on one axis and campaign priorities on the other, The resulting chequerboard allows individual to consider their campaigns as part of a wider concept and to ask themselves if they could cooperate with other groups or in other areas without overtaxing their resources . This matrix is only an initial one - the concept can be refined and new campaigns, tactics or allies added .”

This “strategy” also appears in “advocacy manuals”. The fanatics approach groups with the standard inflammatory propaganda – we need to rid the world of the No.1 killer. Implied in the propaganda is that if a group does not join the bandwagon that they are “complicit” in the “holocaust”. If groups are not familiar with history, science, and reason – which they typically are not – they are easy prey for the fanatics as has been demonstrated.

Mag said...


“Amongst the many problems with this three-o'clock-in-the-morning idea…”

Chris, I think the fanatics’ ideas are absurd at whatever time of day they are conjured.

“One idea that has not been tried is banning cigarette filters.”

This would make no difference to the fanatics. The sanctimonious, neurotic bigots were whining about cigarette butts pre-filters.

There is something a little absurd in the solemnity with which the officials of the Subway discuss the limits of their power to enforce on their patrons the degree of cleanliness required by decency and in the interest of sanitation. It is clear enough to any one that cigarettes and cigar stumps thrown in quantities on the roadbed are unwholesome and disgusting.

“On the pretext of protecting public health, cigarettes need to be made more dangerous.”

It’s already been done. They’re called “Fire Safe Cigarettes” or “Reduced Ignition Propensity” cigarettes. They have been pushed for by the fanatics for the last few decades. They involve additional glue rings along the cigarette paper that increase the chemical load of the cigarette and they smell more. This design was never health-tested on humans. Many have complained of immediate symptoms such as phlegm, cough, wheezing from smoking these cigarettes. And no-one wants to know about it. [I cannot smoke these cigarettes. I’ve had to go to RYO] If that wasn’t enough, they don’t seem to reduce the incidence of fires either. The FSC is coming to Europe, only they’re referred to in Europe as “Fire Safer Cigarettes”, acknowledging that they are not good at what they were supposed to do. We are well into the realm of madness.

westcoast2 said...

@Jean, been there done that, the Al Gore himself

Jean said...

I knew it!

Anonymous said...

C. Snowdon: “Filters are probably the only innovation in cigarette design to have helped reduce the harms of smoking in a century of searching….”

Some self-serving history from the 2010 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, Chapter 2, page 20, Summary (references omitted): “At the time the adverse effects of smoking were being recognized, the tobacco industry developed cigarettes with low machine-measured yields of tar and nicotine, and public health authorities encouraged consumers to select them. Unfortunately, it took public health researchers and federal authorities many years to discover what the tobacco industry knew much earlier: the health benefits of reductions of tar and nicotine intakes were negligible at best for persons using these products. In 2001, an NCI report concluded: ‘There is no convincing evidence that changes in cigarette design between 1950 and the mid 1980s have resulted in an important decrease in the disease burden caused by cigarette use either for smokers as a group or for the entire population.’ Thus, by the twenty-first century, it was apparent that five decades of evolving cigarette design had not reduced overall disease risk among smokers, and new designs were used by the tobacco industry as a tool to undermine prevention and cessation efforts.”

Unless my timeline memory is badly in error, “tar” reducing filters were developed only after anti tobacco screwballs began ranting about “tar” as (somehow) “causing” disease.

Mike F.

Carl V Phillips said...

Great analysis, Chris. It will join this week's THR must-reads -- not because it is about THR, obviously, but because it is a perfect example of anti-tobacco extremism. Usually I write about that in terms of an extremist goals, but the term also refers to extremist tactics, including a willingness to cause whatever damage to whatever good in the world in pursuit of their goal. This is a perfect example of that.

Re the topic of the post, I have to agree that this is a fairly clever tactic. I have to say that the moments when I have a visceral prohibitionist urge have nothing to do with catching a whiff of ETS or seeing a health statistics. Rather, they occur when I find a butt in my yard/driveway, left by some delivery person or visiting tradesman who thought it was just fine to do that rather than use his car's ashtray. I find it quite infuriating that someone thinks it is ok to make me clean up after him (after all, what else other than me picking it up is going to make it go away). I get a similar feeling when I see such litter on a hiking trail.

I realize, of course, that the characteristic of the person that should be seen as most responsible for the problem is not "smoker", but "thoughtless dick", but "smoker" is inevitably what is brought to mind by the sight. Of course, we should not "credit" tobacco control with this clever tactic for encouraging people to be anti-smoking -- after all, they did not start trying to interfere with responsible litter control efforts until recently, so it was not their doing that the littering became a common habit.

nisakiman said...

"I find it quite infuriating that someone thinks it is ok to make me clean up after him (after all, what else other than me picking it up is going to make it go away)"

I have a similar attitude to owners who let their dogs shit around the front of my house.

Joe Jackson had the right idea...

Kristin Noll-Marsh said...

Today I saw some idiot open his/her car door and toss out a McDonald's coffee cup. I'm quite sure that there are plenty of community trash bins available or that the offender has a trash bin at home/work.

So, who do we hold accountable? To whom shall we mail THAT trash back? Big Coffee or Big Fat(Micky D's)?

Stupid ANTZ.

jredheadgirl said...

"Actually they have been shown to reduce the harms of smoking (I could write a whole post on this subject if anyone's interested)."

Yes Chris, please do write a whole post on the subject of filters (including charcoal filters and cigarette holder/tar blockers..there are many brands). Thanks in advance, lol:-)This issue is of great interest to me, as I'm sure that it is to many of us here. It boggles my mind how the antis are able to lie about virtually all of the relative risks pertaining to harm reduction with no repercussions whatsoever from our govt representatives, or even that of the media.

I remember listing to some anti-tobacco bureaucrat speaking on public radio (here in Los Angeles) not too long ago...He echoed the very same sentiment: ie..."...there is no difference between non-filtered and filtered cigarettes, etc.." Even the host of the show was shocked to hear a so-called "expert" utter such madness. Then on another occasion I remember reading about how antis in Britain (ASH, I believe?) were all in a tizzy about an article entitled "How to roll your own perfect cigarette" (..or something like that). Anyway, the antis came out all in a huff because they claimed that rolling your own encouraged smoking FILTER-LESS cigarettes which have been purported to carry GREATER (err..significantly greater) risks to the smoker. Sigh...So which is it? We know the answer, and I'm sure that they do as well. This only leads me to one conclusion: they blatantly LIE when it suits there purpose. They have no right to deny us the truth.

"On the pretext of protecting public health, cigarettes need to be made more dangerous."

That is what some would call criminal behavior and an affront on the human rights of tobacco users everywhere.

"In other words, treat cigarette litter the same as every other form of litter. Sounds fair enough. Other industries are expected to encourage responsible disposal of waste, why not the tobacco industry?"

There is no fairness or logic in the world of tobacco control.

Great post!

Christopher Snowdon said...

To those who asked, I'll write something about filters next week. I'm happy to be prompted - it's an interesting area.