Day 15 – The Earth is not your Ashtray

During the course of a “40 Days of Writing” project it should come as no surprise that I would come out with some sort of editorial piece now and then. This would be one of those times.

A fire broke out in the center divide of one of our San Diego freeways one afternoon last week. Can’t blame the homeless on that one; it was clearly the result of yet another careless smoker tossing a lit cigarette butt out their car window. As a traffic reporter I see this on almost a weekly basis, sometimes even several times a week, especially in the hotter months.

Last I checked, most vehicles still come with ashtrays. If your vehicle doesn’t, then you should be carrying a portable ashtray to throw your cigarette butts in, and quit trashing the planet and worse yet, causing fires.

I can’t help but believe that people who toss cigarette butts out car windows are passive-aggressively venting, “Take that, Society, for not letting me smoke wherever I please anymore!”

Discarded cigarette butts are the #1 littered item in the world, estimated at 178 million pounds a year. Folks that toss cigarette butts might feel that their actions won’t hurt the environment. “What’s the problem? They’re biodegradable,” they’ll try and convince you. They’re wrong; 95% of cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate, which takes years to degrade; and should an animal happen to ingest one it can cause them severe damage.

Oh, and let’s not forget the fire hazards.

On January 3, 2001, around 4:30 a.m. someone tossed a lit cigarette butt along the median on Interstate 8 in San Diego County. It started a 10,000 acre fire, which became known as the Viejas Fire. Lasting 6 days, it destroyed numerous homes, outbuildings, trailers and vehicles. All that damage cause by someone too self-absorbed and careless to use their ashtray.

I think anyone who throws cigarette butt out their car window might as well get a bumper sticker that says, “I am an idiot & a litterbug, and yes, it is all about me!”

Even on foot, those who simply toss their cigarette butts anywhere except in a proper receptacle ought to be wearing T-shirts with the same slogan.

Just yesterday in Gilbert, Arizona, an improperly discarded cigarette sparked a fire that swept through a plumbing warehouse, doing millions of dollars in damage.

I cannot express my views here without touching on smoking etiquette. I realize that casinos represent some of the last bastions for smoking freedom, but unless I am smoking a cigarette as well, what makes the average smoker think that I appreciate them sidling up and plopping down at the slot machine right next to me (especially when there are plenty of other seats available) and letting their cigarette smoke billow in my face? They don’t even attempt to keep the smoke somewhat subdued – perhaps by switching the cigarette to their hand that is the farthest from you – they just let the smoke billow. That’s right; just keep exercising your freedom at my expense.

The good news is, their inconsideration and ignorance in that department have cost them as well; numerous casinos are now implementing Non-Smoking sections.

Never having been a smoker myself, I did grow up in a houseful of smokers, to the point where I became somewhat immune to it. When I would become short-winded with any sort of prolonged exercise, I didn’t see the correlation; I just chalked it up to being a better sprinter than long-distance runner. No one knew then the ramifications of second-hand smoke, and even if they did, I’m not certain that that would have changed anything.

I didn’t realize until years later, after having been out of a smoking environment for a while, that the second-hand smoke I was inhaling did indeed have an effect on my athletic capabilities. In college I was able to run 2-3 miles without collapsing.

My mother smoked until her mid 50’s. What caused her to go cold turkey was a serious on-the-job injury that landed her in the hospital for a week. No smoking allowed in the hospital, and that did it for her. Once she got out she wanted nothing more to do with cigarettes. If you smoked at her house, you had best do it outside. Better late than never, Mom!

I can tolerate a certain amount of cigarette smoke, as long as it isn’t directly blown my way. What I cannot tolerate is the carelessness and inconsideration when it comes to discarding cigarette butts, lit or unlit. 

In San Diego you would think that the $300+ fine for getting caught discarding a cigarette butt out of a car would be enough of a deterrent, but next time you’re stopped at a red light, just check out the median to your left, and prepare to be disgusted. Most smokers will simply look around to make sure there is no law official around before flicking their butt. These are more than likely the same folks who look around to make sure no one sees them not picking up after their dog. Inconsiderate, irresponsible, cowardly litterbugs; they are also breaking the law while they continue to trash our planet.

Okay, I’m quiet…for now.

About kdanek17

A work in progress. Radio personality and voiceover artist. I love cooking, entertaining, and being with friends & family (which includes my dogs).
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1 Response to Day 15 – The Earth is not your Ashtray

  1. Carol Green says:

    Kelly what a great article–I’d love to know more about your project.

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