Driving into work today I saw three smokers throw cigarette butts out of their car window and I wondered why would they think it is OK to throw a burning piece of litter out of a moving vehicle?

The number of smokers has decreased over the last several years due to increased health awareness and increased taxes, but I don't really notice a decline in the number of cigarette butts littering streets, parks, sidewalks, beaches and parking lots. Why is this and how bad is the problem?

Are the "hardcore" smokers more or less likely to toss that used butt out improperly or is it the "secret" smoker trying to hide their dirty habit? Or maybe carmakers are to blame for not including ashtrays in new vehicles?

It's probably a combination of all of the above,  after talking to some smokers I found that a majority admit to tossing their butts out improperly from time to time, some carry a can or bottle to dispose of their butts properly and one person even said "(I) stick it in my little door handle compartment thing, and throw it/them out at my destination." But everyone of them acknowledged they try not to do it and are keenly aware that they shouldn't do it, so why does the problem continue?

Minnesota state statue 169.42 mentions “ashes” and “cigarette filters” as being litter. Littering is a misdemeanor statewide, and it goes on your driving record. A second offense has a minimum fine of $400. And the Minnesota State Patrol does enforce this law, according to a WCCO report between May 2011 and April 30, 2012, the State Patrol issued 195 citations for littering and 388 warnings and most of those were for cigarette butts.

Forget about the legal reasons you shouldn't do it, how about the practical reasons, like:

  • Keeping the city you call home clean and looking nice. Some studies have shown that litter can reduce property values by as much as 7%.
  • Not harming animals, cigarette filters can be very harmful, even deadly to birds and other animals.
  • Not starting a fire, how would you like to be responsible for starting a fire that destroys someone's home or worse, kill someone?
  • Not hitting the person on the motorcycle behind you. I know several people who have been hit; one was even burned by a rogue butt in the neck, ouch!
  • The chemicals are concentrated in the discard filters and those nasty chemicals can find their way into waters sources and fish.
Cigarette butt litter continues to be a problem for Duluth, Superior and other Northland communities, and the problem isn't limited to the Northland, here are some mind blowing stats about cigarette litter.
Tony Hart - TSM