COLUMN: Smokers need to clean up the mess

NANAIMO: Smokers don't have the right to toss cigarette butts wherever they choose.

It has been some time since I’ve used this space to get a few things off my chest, so here are some beefs that have been bugging me.

***

While I understand that the smokers’ world in terms of where they can light up is shrinking so quickly that they are feeling a little persecuted, they have to remember it’s for the good of us all.

They can’t smoke in public buildings, in parks, on beaches or so many metres from a doorway. There’s even a push to prevent them from smoking in cars if children are present. Their own homes, if a multi-family unit, might even be off limits.

It seems the great outdoors (excluding said park and beaches) appears to be the only place smokers can light up without too much problem.

That’s fine … the outdoors belongs to all of us and I can hold my breath for a few seconds if I pass a smoker.

My problem is when they finish their smoke and flick the butt into the street, on the sidewalk or on somebody’s lawn. Just because smokers are allowed to smoke in certain areas doesn’t mean it’s their right to discard their litter wherever they please.

I was out for a walk in my neighbourhood and a cigarette butt caught my eye in the first couple of steps. I started counting all the discarded butts I saw and was up to more than 50 in four blocks. Granted the majority of them were in an empty lot and not on the street, but these smokers still finished and flicked without a second thought to littering and private property.

I quickly lost interest in counting and briefly considered that a good neighbour would pick the butts up rather than just complain about it.

But with rental properties, I get my share of cleaning up other people’s cigarette mess. I was actually quite amazed that with the dry summer we had, my front lawns or the ditches didn’t go up in flames with the amount of cigarettes I found.

However, the most distasteful scene I’ve come across in terms of cigarette butts is at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. The Vancouver Island Health Authority’s rules don’t allow smoking on the hospital ground (a joke in terms of enforcement) so smokers head to the sidewalks for their break.

While at the hospital, I watched a security guard stop on the sidewalk on Dufferin Crescent, light up a smoke and begin reading a book. After he finished, he flicked, not even bothering to extinguish it. Multiply that by all the staff members to take a cigarette break and you have a huge mess on the roads.

An since those roads are the responsibility of the city and not VIHA, the public using the sidewalks must wade through the litter until city crews get around to sweeping it up.

Preventing second hand smoke around NRGH is a great initiative, but the health authority and its employees have to be responsible for more than just litter on the hospital grounds.

***

I have heard over Facebook that there have been three cougar sightings in the Lantzville/North Nanaimo areas in recent weeks. A call to conservation officers from our newsroom showed that only one cougar sighting was reported to officials.

Now, I don’t know if all the sightings were indeed cougars – I have heard of a golden retriever being confused for a big cat in poor light – but if one takes the time to post it on Facebook, doesn’t it make sense to let the authorities know?

Usually cougars are going about their own business and leave humans alone, but I would hate to gamble the life of anyone on that assumption.

Conservation officers have the knowledge and skills to make sure no one is any danger.

Not everyone is on Facebook, but everyone has the right to know what is going on in their neighbourhoods.

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