There are fewer and fewer places these days where it’s okay to smoke, thanks to a growing number of public health laws.
However, policymakers have paid far less attention to another societal consequence of lighting up: the scourge of litter from cigarette butts.
According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, an advocacy group, butts are the most commonly discarded waste around the world—a whopping 1.7 billion pounds are trashed each year, filled with toxic compounds.
The state of Illinois is now doing something about it, having passed a law that makes it illegal to toss a butt on the ground or out the car window. Beginning next year, violators will face up to a $1,500 fine for littering their butts, reports the Rockford Register Star. If they’re caught, of course.
In Illinois, the Great Lakes can sometimes become the de facto "ash tray" for smokers. The Alliance for Great Lakes says that 29% of the scraps picked up by its volunteers in 2012 were smokers’ scraps. Litter in a neighborhood can also devalue properties and contribute to crime—a la the "broken windows" theory of urban renewal.
But cigarette butt trash is obviously a problem all over the U.S. and the world. People in other cities are trying alternate approaches, such as encouraging people to recycle them. Perhaps Illinois can set an example of how to enforce an end to the annoying and hazardous affliction, though surely some smokers will take issue with another hassle they will have to deal with.