Butt clean up campaigns: wolves in sheep's clothing?

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Simon Chapman

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Aug 3, 2006, 1:24:03 PM8/3/06
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In 2005, matches and lighters were struck under an estimated 5.494
trillion cigarettes consumed by the world's 1.3 billion smokers. The
great majority of their non-biodegradable butts are thrown on the
ground. Butts are easily the single most common form of litter, with one
analysis showing they constitute 39% by weight of all litter. For many
smokers, the world is their ashtray.


BUTT LITTERING TRUST
There is growing concern about this form of unsightly and dangerous
pollution. Google shows 63 500 hits for "cigarette butt" and "litter"
and the international tobacco industry has got a nasty lungful of this
new ill-wind and may be coming soon with a big environmentally friendly
smile to run a publicity campaign near you. In Australia, British
American Tobacco has set up the Butt Littering Trust, with $A2.8 million
(US$2.089 million, Eur1.619 million) allocated over four years. Philip
Morris has spent $A331 775 (US$247 454, Eur191 833) on butt litter
reduction in one Australian state. Cheery staff hand thoughtful smokers
a little film canister to store their butts, and suburbs get awards for
running local awareness campaigns. The Butt Littering Trust website
gushes that by April 2006, three years after the programme commenced,
12 000 Australians smokers have "signed the pledge" to not discard
butts. This leaves around 2 880 000 who haven't signed and provides
insight into a recent government assessment of these campaigns which
"have not translated into widespread reduction of cigarette butt litter.
The impact of current activities funded by cigarette manufacturers is
clearly unsatisfactory."

The Butt Littering Trust is wholly supported by British American Tobacco
(BAT), whose representatives sit on its board. The Trust's chairman is
adamant that BAT plays no role in shaping the strategies and goals of
reducing butt litter. So why then is the Trust equally adamant that it
will limit its efforts to education and not join with other
organisations to try and reduce the number of cigarettes being smoked,
and then available to be discarded as litter?

All anti-litter campaigns openly embrace three broad strategies:
reducing use, recycling and education to "do the right thing". Serious
anti-litter organisations campaign to reduce packaging such as plastic
bags, and lobby for bottle deposit legislation and tougher fines for
littering. The Butt Littering Trust deliberately limits itself to
education. Imagine how seriously the community would regard a plastic
bag manufacturer setting up a Trust to educate shoppers not to discard
bags, while lobbying hard to oppose any reduction in bag use. This is
exactly analogous to what BAT is doing through the Trust. Grantees are
warned that all communication with the public must adhere to the Trust's
key messages, with all public statements being vetted for "consistency
in messages". Don't even think about urging smokers to quit.


OPPOSING OUTSIDE SMOKING BAN
But it gets worse. Along with long-time tobacco industry ally the
Australian Hotels Association, the Trust has recently opposed moves by
Newcastle City Council to ban smoking at outside al fresco restaurant
and café tables where many non-smokers have complained that they must
sit cheek-by-jowl with smokers who are not permitted to smoke indoors.
The Trust argues that smoking bans have caused smokers to move outdoors,
where many discard their butts.

The wider view is that reduced smoking opportunities mean reduced
smoking. When smokers cannot smoke in particular settings, they smoke
fewer cigarettes. When fewer cigarettes are smoked, fewer cigarettes are
available to be dropped on the ground and less disease is caused as
well.

Reducing the prevalence of smoking would do more than any other strategy
to reduce butt pollution. In the 1960s, nearly 70% of Australian men and
around 30% of women smoked. Today, just over 17% smoke everyday.5 The
only people who discard butts are smokers. Thirty per cent of all
Australian adults used to discard butts and now never do, because they
are ex-smokers. Effective tobacco control reduces both the number of
smokers in the community and the amount of cigarettes smoked per day by
continuing smokers. It controls butt littering at source, because it
reduces the number of "sources" who each have on average some 6200 butts
to dispose of each year.

Trying to persuade smokers to be more considerate, and law enforcement
of anti-littering provisions, are two important components of butt
reduction efforts. But they are minor, band-aid contributors to the
problem at large. BAT has a naked conflict of interest in addressing
the litter question. The Butt Littering Trust directors are either
willing or naively unwitting allies in this sham. Tobacco control
advocates in Australia are now working with some success with local
government authorities to alert them to the broader agenda of tobacco
industry sponsored anti-litter campaigns.

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