Deposit fee on butts solves litter woes

NANAIMO – Cigarette butts are by far and away the leading item of litter in B.C.

To the Editor,

I would like to propose the idea of a returnable cigarette butt deposit fee for British Columbia.

Cigarette butts are by far and away the leading item of litter in B.C., similar to the situation worldwide. They are especially problematic in dense urban areas and on coastlines.

In addition to being unsightly, cigarette butts have several other malevolent characteristics. They are non-biodegradable, and leach toxic organic chemicals and heavy metals into the environment impacting soil, fresh- and salt-water.

Additionally they are often directly ingested by various aquatic and land-based organisms, and at times even by our children.

Furthermore, discarded cigarette butts are also a major cause of highly destructive and even deadly fires in forests and elsewhere. And cleaning up butt waste is expensive, costing cities and taxpayers.

Of course the above list doesn’t even mention that they are derived from a product that not only provides no real benefits whatsoever, but is actually the leading cause of preventable death in Canada and worldwide.

Littering cigarette butts and empty packs is illegal  in B.C., however, given that more than one-third of the billions of cigarettes smoked daily are currently littered despite the near-universal recognition of such as being “the wrong thing to do”, awareness campaigns and increased enforcement have only transient and marginal effects.

On the other hand, charging a returnable deposit fee (for instance five cents/butt equals $1/pack returned full) will have an immediate and widespread effect.

If, additionally, the program were structured to provide a smaller reimbursement (say one cent) for already littered butts, it would mobilize bottle-collecting members of the public and essentially lead to the near-disappearance of all butt litter overnight.

Visible tobacco litter begets more litter of all sorts, not to mention disrespect for the law, and serving as free, albeit perverse, advertising for the tobacco industry and as omnipresent triggers to the smoker wanting to quit or at least cut down.

Therefore a cigarette butt deposit program may even end up having unintended external benefits.

Dr. Stuart Kreisman

St. Paul’s Hospital