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Cig butts enforcement would be big hurdle

(March 14, 2014) At both the local and state levels, cigarette butts are proving to be a real enforcement hurdle.

In recent weeks, officials at different levels have expressed a desire to curtail the amount of litter created by cigarette butts, nearly 5 trillion of which are tossed every year worldwide according to industry estimates.

In Ocean City, Councilman Brent Ashley’s press to have city police begin ticketing butt-flickers met with a tentative reception from the Ocean City Police Department at a recent council meeting.

“That is an area we can start to address, especially as the summer approaches,” OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said. “We want to reinforce the emphasis on cleanliness and respect for our town.”

“I think it goes hand-in-hand with some of the other quality-of-life issues the council has addressed,” Ashley said. “I know a number of constituents, including myself, who have been hit or nearly hit by someone tossing a butt. Plus, the sanitation after the fact is a whole other issue.”

The city’s littering ordinance is strong enough to cover cigarette waste, Ashley said, without any additional legislation.

Starting a concerted enforcement would be a leap for the OCPD. According to department data, only 15 littering citations were handed out in 2013 – but that was the highest number since at least 2005. In 2008, no citations were issued.

“The officers can use the same type of charge to enforce against cigarette butts, but the command staff is looking into it to decide what enforcement we would be able to do,” said OCPD Public Affairs Specialist Lindsay O’Neal.

“It’s difficult to suddenly start enforcing against every single person who throws a cigarette butt – but it is littering.”

The problematic part of a cigarette butt is not any leftover tobacco or paper, which are biodegradable, but the filter. Modern cigarette filters are made of a plastic that will dissipate after 10-15 years but lasts, essentially, forever.

In December, State Delegate Jon Cardin (D-11), who is running for State’s Attorney General, had introduced a bill that would ban the sale of cigarettes in Maryland with non-biodegradable filters. However, such filters are almost non-existent, with only one company that produces them in quantity.

Given that enforcement of the bill would virtually eliminate Maryland’s $430 million annual revenue stream from sales and excise tax on cigarettes, the legislation was given an unfavorable report by the House Economic Matters Committee.

Cigarette butts account for 1.69 billion pounds of litter worldwide each year, and constitute 30 percent of the environmental waste found in recent clean-up efforts, according to Cardin’s bill. In Ocean City, the town’s Public Works Department has previously reported that cigarettes make up the vast majority of waste picked up by the city’s sand-combing machines.

Curiously, the federal National Cancer Institute reports that there is no evidence that filters make cigarettes any safer or reduce their impact on public health.

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