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Smoking related litter – article by Ian Gray to coincide with 10th Anniversary of the English Smoke Free Law

This article first appeared as a blog on the CIEH site June 2017

Smoking related litter is major concern for Government’s new litter strategy

 Ian GrayArticle by Ian Gray, Co-Director, Environmental Health Collaborating Centre

It has been a constant complaint since the implementation of the smokefree legislation in 2007 that smoking outdoors has increased the amount of smoking litter on our streets.

Although compliance with the smokefree laws remains high and the number of smokers is falling, cigarette litter remains a problem with 73% of sites surveyed having some form of smokers’ material visible on England’s streets.

This litter poses a safety risk, is an environmental hazard and cleaning it up costs local authorities a great deal of money:

  • Cigarettes are difficult to clean up: butts fall into cracks in pavements, accumulate around grids, gutters etc.
  • Filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic which can persist in the environment as long as any other plastic
  • 28% of people don’t think cigarette ends are litter, thinking they are bio-degradable, which they are not
  • An estimated 122 tonnes of cigarette butts, matches and smoking related litter is dropped every single day, with a clean-up cost of £342 million

The new litter strategy report from DEFRA confirms that this is indeed a persistent and widespread problem and research from Keep Britain Tidy states that “cigarette butts, matches and discarded, empty packets are the most littered item in the country”.

Whilst the Government’s proposals address a range of littering and fly-tipping issues, no specific proposals are made in relation to cigarette litter other than to state that reducing prevalence of smoking is the most lasting way to reduce smoking‑related litter and there is a continuing commitment to reducing the numbers of people who smoke.

‘Litter breeds litter’

The need for public education is emphasised, as well as for clean environments to signal that dropping litter is not socially acceptable. However, there is no reference to the increasing adoption of local prohibitions on smoking in outdoor public places, including children’s play areas, parks, beaches and even outdoor urban areas, or for the voluntary ‘no smoking zones’ wherever children play or learn as called for by CIEH on World Environmental Health Day 2016.

Defra states that the statutory Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse is to be updated. The existing version dates from 2006 and describes the standards which councils and others are expected to be able to achieve in carrying out their legal duty to “keep their relevant land clear of litter and refuse” under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

There is also to be a serious consideration of the role of regulatory measures, including the use of Community Protection Notices and new proposals to fine the keeper of a vehicle from which litter is thrown, despite the obvious enforcement difficulties.

Alongside this Strategy, Defra have published a consultation document which seeks views on whether there should be an increase in fines for littering and related offences which have not changed since 2006.

The strategy seeks to address all aspects of litter control and removal and responsibilities are allocated through a long list of actions, many of which will lie with the numerous Litter Strategy Advisory and Working Group Members whose organisations are named in the report.

As we celebrate 10 years of smoking ban, the problem with smoking-related letter demonstrates that there is room for greater consideration of environmental health interests and there may be opportunities through participation in the various advisory and working groups.

Indeed, campaigners for tobacco control and environmental management could collaborate to encourage Defra to hold the tobacco industry accountable for the environmental problems their products create – the polluter should pay.

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