Buttinskies Demand Ban On Cigarette Filters

Don't blame smokers for cigarette butts on the street. Blame the policies that pushed them to smoke there.


Oleg Zhukov/

The two great nanny-state forces—anti-tobacco activists and nitpicking environmentalists—have joined forces to take on a common foe: cigarette filters.

"They make it easier for people to smoke," Thomas Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, tells NBC. "It's also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can't continue to allow this."

Novotny is now being joined by the anti-tobacco Truth Initiative—which launched a "Better Butts" campaign last week—and the environmental group 5 Gyges, which included cigarette butts on its Better Alternatives Now (B.A.N.) 2.0 list. California Assemblyman Mike Stone (D-Monterey) has introduced legislation to ban filtered cigarettes, and San Francisco is now charging a 60-cent litter surcharge on all packs of smokes sold.

As with the efforts to ban plastic straws, the argument is that the huge number of filters carelessly discarded each day—usually made from a plastic material—eventually end up in the world's plastic-saturated oceans.

Novotny tells NBC that two thirds of cigarette butts wind up as litter. The Truth Initiative describes them as "the most littered item ON EARTH" (their capitalization, not mine). NBC says filters are "the number one man-made contaminant in the world's oceans."

That latter description is a bit over-eager. While cigarette butts do make up a healthy plurality of th litter picked up off California's coastline (about 35 percent), this is not the same thing as the percentage of plastic marine debris made of cigarette butts. According to a March 2018 study, a large majority of the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of discarded or lost fishing nets and other fishing industry gear, such as ropes, crates, and baskets.

Cigarette butts are indeed the most littered item. They comprise over a third of the country's litter, according to the Keep America Beautiful (KAB) survey—which has in past years been funded by grants from tobacco company Phillip Morris. But that has not translated into an outsized impact on wildlife. A 2016 survey of ocean scientists and marine debris experts ranked butts behind not just all that fishing gear but more scarce items, such as balloons (which make up about 1 percent of the items collected during coastal clean-ups.)

In any case, there's a much less intrusive way to cut back on tobacco-related litter. Over the past several decades, smokers have been increasingly shunted out of restaurants, bars, and patios—where businesses have been happy to put out ash trays for them, and where aimlessly tossing a butt aside is both more noticeable and less acceptable—and onto city streets. One obvious consequence is that they litter more.

KAB notes that "one of the strongest predictors of cigarette butt littering is the number of ash receptacles." Merely adding more such receptacles on city streets and at workplaces would substantially reduce the number of butts getting into the waste stream.

San Francisco offers evidence for this. In 2010 the city government passed strict new anti-smoking laws which barred lighting up on patios and within 15 feet of open doorways and windows. The change also required Bay City businesses to ditch their outdoor ash trays less they be seen as encouraging people to smoke in now prohibited areas. As the San Francisco Examiner soon noted, people kept smoking—but now their discarded filters piled up in front of businesses instead of in the trash.

The city is now (slightly) reversing course, adding more public ash trays but also raising taxes to pay for them.

If you want to cut down on littered butts while preserving the joy some people obtain from smoking a filtered cigarette, politicians and activists should suppress their normal instinct to adopt the most coercive possible policies and look instead at ways to both cut down on litter and expand personal choice. They might, say, let property owners decide if they want to put ash trays in front of their business—or even (gasp!) at the bar.

NEXT: New Jersey Gov. Vetoes Plastic Bag Fee Because It Doesn't 'Go Far Enough'

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  1. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can’t continue to allow this.


  2. NBC says filters are “the number one man-made contaminant in the world’s oceans.”

    The filters are choking plastic straws.

    1. If we’d just make the plastic 6 pack holders a little narrower, the whole mess would probably get caught up in the old not-dolphin-safe tuna nets.

  3. >>> Better Alternatives Now (B.A.N.) 2.0 list

    The dystopia could try harder to be subtle.

  4. The tobacco taxes became far too high for me to continue buying manufactured cigarettes, especially on a limited income. I switched to hand-rolling my own which had the added advantage, given the tobacco I use, of removing additives as well. Good luck finding a filter. Tastes better and I smoke less. [BTW, a service-connected terminal condition is going to make sure I don’t die due to smoking related illnesses let alone require treatment for same. Not that this should be a factor, but usually is.]

    1. Back when I smoked, I used to occasionally buy a bag of Drum and roll my own-it was much more enjoyable than the filtered stuff, and probably not significantly worse for health either.

    2. When I did that I would sometimes roll up a couple with green tips before going to work. Then when I went out for a butt break my first puff would be weed, and after that it was a tobacco cigarette. If anyone else was around I’d say “You smell that? I think someone’s smoking pot around here!” and act all alarmed. Nobody ever caught on.

  5. Another reason to switch to vaping I guess-until the progtards decide to ban batteries too.

  6. “Buttinskies Demand Ban On Cigarette Filters”

    The plethora of puns regarding this headline are just too numerous to list.

  7. First, cigarettes were banned in restaurants.
    Then it was plastic straws.
    Now its filters.
    Its sucks to be anything that requires sucking.

    1. The ultimate in trust: gay cannibal.

      1. gay cannibal

        Do they only eat someone of the same sex? Is it better to be eaten by someone of the opposite sex? Better because the straight cannibal guys eat everything besides your junk?

  8. They might, say, let property owners decide if they want to put ash trays in front of their business?or even (gasp!) at the bar.

    You don’t really truly believe that will accomplish something substantive, do you?

    Look, libertarians can agree that freedom is good and that over-regulation leads to unintended consequences and that cigarette butts really aren’t that environmentally impactful. But to believe that the average smoker gives a flying fuck about where their cigarette butts land is to be willfully blind about reality.

    Smokers don’t even use ash trays in their own cars, FFS.

    1. Smokers don’t even use ash trays in their own cars, FFS.

      Of course not. They stink. But butt cans outdoors usually get used. Of course they tend to catch fire, but that’s not the smoker’s problem.

      1. The fire is feature not a bug. That’s how my company knows its time to empty ours. That is a job for the new guy and lets us know if the new guy may become an old guy.

        1. What doesn’t send you to the emergency room for burn treatment and smoke inhalation makes you stronger right?

          1. You don’t get stronger by going to the emergency room. You get stronger by surviving all on your own.

    2. Most of the smokers I know would never toss a butt on the beach or anywhere else besides a trash can. Obviously there is a problem and smokers could do better. But not every smoker is a litterer.

      1. Must be a bunch of non-smokers then tossing their butts all over the fucking place.

        1. Or, in an overzealous attempt to modify behavior, the regulators created a new problem AS THE INFORMATION IN THE ARTICLE SUGGESTS. Heaven forbid we just focus on information getting out to the masses, rather than taking after them with the biggest hammer we can create.

      2. Then you don’t know typical smokers. The great majority of smokers are litterers.

        1. And why, prey tell, might a majority of smokers be litterers? Could it be that, over the past 25 years, they’ve been ex-communicated from restaurants, bars or even fucking clubs that would cater to them. They’ve been banned from outdoor patios, streets, whole city blocks – basically, they’ve been banned from any conceivable place they might enjoy a social life.

          Aside from the fact that cars haven’t even offered any option for an ashtray in years, they’re being banned in their cars if, in some cases, a “child” of 18 or younger is present or if they drive onto school property. They’ve been banned completely from most college campuses indoors and out. They’ve been banned completely from Hospital grounds, no matter how stressful their reason for being there is. And they’re being banned from their own fucking homes.

          Not to mention that in roughly half the US states, its perfectly legal to fire or refuse to hire someone because they use a tobacco product on their own time or the incessant media campaign to demonize and ostracize smokers. Oh, and yeah, they “enjoy” a steep level of taxation per unit of product that no other product or service in the world comes close to.

          Maybe, just fucking maybe, most of them are really fucking pissed and the only fucking protest they have left, since most otherwise freedom-loving individuals or political parties won’t raise a fucking finger in defense of their freedom, is to throw it on the fucking ground and say, “fuck all of you!”

          1. I’m usually sympathetic to smokers, being an ex-smoker myself. But when it comes to littering, way too many smokers are simply slobs. Even in designated smoking areas where ashtrays are available, it’s still routine to see butts and other trash on the ground.

            I don’t buy the idea that this behavior is some kind of backlash against regulations, either, since it was common before the anti-tobacco jihad got really revved up. About twenty-five years ago, I used to work at a convenience store. Back then, it was even legal to smoke inside the store. Yet I still had to regularly sweep up after some jerkass dumped his ashtray on the ground, never mind that there was a trashcan six feet away.

            My long-held personal theory is that this kind of lazy, slovenly behavior is actually one of the reasons smokers get so little sympathy.

      3. I’m more cognizant of it than most smokers I know – but I definitely litter now. Flick it out the window when driving and into the street when walking outside. I tend to field-strip when near a place I can discard the butt but I care a lot less than I used to.

        The second folks jacked up taxes to pay for ‘excess health costs’ and ‘to encourage quitting’ (and then spent the money on neither) – and then double-charged insurance in addition on those excess costs, I basically said FuckYou.

    3. Oh, some don’t. I flick out the ash and keep the butt and throw them away later. Some folks do use the ashtrays in their cars, but guess what isn’t in many cars nowadays. No ashtrays.

      When you keep making it hard for someone to do something don’t be surprised when they blow smoke in your face.

    4. They haven’t built a car with ash trays in years.

      1. Last time I bought a car they offered an optional ash tray that would slot into one of the cup holders. It was something like $80.00.

        If I smoked, I’d flick my butts out the window in sheer protest.

        … and to clarify how I feel. I’ve been out walking and had somebody flick a butt out the window into the dry grass where I’m walking, and in a fit of righteous stupidity I’ve picked up the butt and flicked it back through their window.

        I don’t like the litter of cigarette butts, but obviously the government isn’t going to solve the problem. I suspect me flicking butts back into someone’s car isn’t going to do it either.

    5. Doesn’t help that most cars don’t even come with ashtrays anymore.

      I keep a can in my car for butts so I don’t toss them out the window.

      1. Sure it doesn’t help. But it doesn’t alleviate one’s obligation to be responsible.

        I have no idea what the true numbers are regarding responsible smokers (like Zeb) vs. irresponsible ones. But anecdotally, I hardly ever observe responsible ones, so I certainly suspect that the Zeb’s of the world are rare.

    6. When was the last car made with an ashtray? I have a 2005 with a power outlet, had to go buy a cigarette lighter and use a cup holder ashtray. If you use the recirculate on A\C it will stink bad otherwise open a window.

    1. Interesting.

    2. Thank you.I was going to point this very thing out. If you don’t smoke and throw butts on the ground you can also help our fine feathered friends by littering with dryer lint.

  9. This really has nothing to do with littering. Compared to the 70s or 80s, the number of cigarette butts I see on the street are negligible, the number of my acquaintances who still smoke are a handful.

    Your suggestions are never going to be implemented because this is simply about tormenting smokers. Why? Because they can, that’s why.

    1. Easy target to pick on the social pariah smokers.

      1. Everyone hates the niccers.

    2. No, it’s because smokers routinely just toss their butts on the ground wherever they finish them.

      I’m allowed to hate them for being littering shitbags.

      1. So every smoker is a litter? Or is it just a subset of smokers?
        Generalizing just makes you look like a fucking asshile who is incapable of anything more than rudimentary thinking.

        1. About 90 percent, from what I’ve seen. If they cared about the future, they wouldn’t smoke.

        2. It’s a subset, but a pretty large one. I suspect it’s a majority, although I’ll admit I don’t have any figures to prove that. Even back when I smoked, I despised slovenly SOB’s who threw their butts anywhere and everywhere. Nearly getting hit in the face with discarded butts while riding my bike didn’t help any either. (This happened to me on several occasions.)

      2. The seen and the unseen, my man.

      3. I only throw my butts on the ground when i visit Boston. I live in the burbs and pocket them if i have to. But in bean town am too busy trying to miss jaywalkers that believe they have the right to walk out in front of your car at anytime to worry about the butt.

  10. NBC says filters are “the number one man-made contaminant in the world’s oceans.”

    Is there any water left in the world’s oceans, or is it all just plastic?

  11. NBC says filters are “the number one man-made contaminant in the world’s oceans.”

    Obviously the solution is edible filters — maybe made from ice-cream-cone material.

  12. Sounds like a great opportunity for someone to develop a biodegradable filter and make a billion dollars.

  13. OK, now let’s go after the *real* problem: single-use water bottles!

    1. Already recyclable. And in most states, homeless people will sort your trash for you to reclaim those 5 cents.

      1. ?

        Most states do not have a return fee for plastic bottles. Most don’t even have one for glass.

    2. I hear they’re the single most common contaminant in our planet’s oceans!

  14. The filters cost money to produce and affix to the cigarettes, right?

    Mandating their removal would therefore make them cheaper, right?

    How do consumers react to a drop in prices?

    And what would they use that monetary saving to purchase instead? Something made out of plastic, perhaps?

  15. If this goes through I would love to see a campaign in California to encourage smokers to throw their last bit of cigarette on the ground. Mass civil disobedience where a law like this is guaranteed to double the amount of litter might eventually get through to the authoritarians that stepping on people’s neck as a way to change behavior is counterproductive. The odds of that are roughly zero but in my fantasy every green nut job has cigarette remnants 2 feet deep in their front yard.

  16. Buttinskies Demand Ban…

    Could have stopped right there.

  17. Clearly insufficient. Cigarettes need to be not only unfiltered, but the rolling papers need to be soaked in bhut jolokhia juice. That’ll teach those filthy niccers.

  18. Wanna know what’s easier than smoking a filtered cigarette?

    Not smoking at all.

    The excuses in this article are garbage.

    The only people throwing that shit on the ground are the people who willingly smoke and are a bunch of littering fucktards.

    1. Go smoke a dick, statist fucktard.

  19. No. The littering assholes are the littering assholes. Shut the fuck up if you’re going to be such an idiot, Christian

  20. “They make it easier for people to smoke,” Thomas Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, tells NBC. “It’s also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can’t continue to allow this.”

    Sweet Evil Jesus! These idiots need to get together and has this out.


    1. Can’t do that — kids will use vaping as a gateway to real cigarettes, with filters! Think of the children! THink of the fish!

  21. San Francisco is now charging a 60-cent litter surcharge on all packs of smokes sold.

    San Francisco has to – they have only the finest street cleaners. Its why they’re paying an average of 70k/year for the 12 guys they hired to clean shit and needles off the streets *for the whole city*. Those guys are amazingly good at what they do – which is why those streets are so feces and needle free already. Buuuuut . . .t – they’re specialists. Feces and needles only. Need a whole separate team of superstars out there picking up the cigarette butts.

  22. NBC says filters are “the number one man-made contaminant in the world’s oceans.”

    Wait, the straw bans worked? *Already*?

  23. They comprise over a third of the country’s litter, according to the Keep America Beautiful (KAB) survey






    Their methodology is not specified and you didn’t ask.

  24. However, in the end, I think we can all agree that the real problem here is those shit-sipping fritatas that dip. Cigarette butts blow away in the wind and collect in the back of some alley no one goes in. Dippers leave stains or cups half-fucking-filled with slime.

    Fry ’em. Fry ’em all.

  25. They make it easier for people to smoke,” Thomas Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, tells NBC. “It’s also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can’t continue to allow this.”

    So the mask comes off. He would rather people die.

    1. Sarcasm?

  26. There is probably a major marketing opportunity here selling 100% organic hemp filters with embedded carbon made from 100% carbon neutral carbon. Guaranteed to degrade quickly* under natural conditions.

    (*Studies have shown these filters may undergo rapid oxidation in the presence of an ignition source. This represents the optimal natural degradation outcome).

  27. As a non-smoker I still wonder about the appeal. I have read a couple of ostensibly libertarian “I FUCKING LOVE SMOKING SO FUCK YOU” articles which were kind of amusing, but the overwhelming thoughts from smokers I know is that they want to quit and it’s something they just do because they got hooked as teenagers. I suppose second hand smoke potentially violates the NAP, depending on how you feel, but there are numerous ways to reach an agreeable arrangement for accomodating smokers and non-smokers, and it was more amenable to everyone when businesses could have designated smoking areas and make their own arrangements. The laws on doing what where are way too restrictive for flexible accomodation of smokers now.

  28. Littering laws seem legitimate, why not just place an emphasis on enforcing the existing law? Getting hit with hundreds of dollars in fines a few times should turn a litterer around.

  29. I basically agree with the premise of this article. Cigarette butts are the most common trash, and IMHO, make straws look benign (which they are).

  30. What? You are saying it is OK for people to litter? Guys in the Army have been “Disassembling” finished CIGS for more than 50 years and putting the butts in their pocket for tossing in the trash later? WHY? Because after every exercise they have to comb the ground and pick up the litter anyway so why toss it out on the ground.

    I see the plies of Butts at traffic intersections where the lazy scumbags toss them out while they are waiting for the light.

    Fine the B@$T@RD$ a feew hundred bucks each time they do it and the problem will stop.

  31. would be nice if they took nicotine addiction seriously

  32. wouldnt say i willingly smoke tbqh… i would say at my chagrin, i absorb this stuff like crack. I can’t go an hour without one lest the nicotine demon stabs me in the brainstuff

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