Wicklow People

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Watch your butts or we'll end up drowned in litter


We have a problem caused entirely by smokers. In the most recent litter surveys, which were conducted last lear, 83.88% of all litter in the county was caused by smokers. The litter in question consists of cigarette butts, boxes, plastic wrapping, foil, matches and matchboxes. We estimate that about one cigarette butt per head of population in the county is thrown on the streets each day. Each in itself is a tiny quantity of litter, but when viewed on a daily or weekly basis, it is an unsightly mess that is totally preventable. Smokers need to stop behaving like a bunch of tossers and not treat the county like an ashtray.

A survey of 4,082 people this past summer revealed that 33% of the Irish population had taken up or continued to smoke. This is the highest rate recorded in over a decade. Despite regular increases in tobacco tax, the introduction of the smoking ban and a new law against the public display of cigarettes for sale, the number of smokers has steadily risen since 2007 when 29% of the population smoked. In the immediate aftermath of the ban in 2014 the figures fell slightly, but that trend has been reversed due to the marketing campaigns of the cigarette companies. Last year in the US alone, the tobacco industry spent $29 billion on promoting cigarettes.

The survey, which was conducted between March and September, revealed the largest group of smokers consisted of the age group between 16 and 30 and made up 45% of all smokers. Men form the majority of smokers at 38%, compared with women at 28%. Although it's a serious subject, I don't wish to go into the impacts on public health, today the issue is the quantity of litter left in shared public spaces - parks, beaches and in particular the streets of our towns and villages.

Under the litter act, tossing a cigarette butt from your car window or outside a pub, restaurant or hotel is treated the very same as if you had thrown a can or fast food wrapping. It may seem insignificant, but it is certainly problematic, as it is estimated that it will take up to 10 years for a cigarette butt to biodegrade. Brushing the cigarette litter from outside your premises onto the road is not the solution. Each pub, shop, hotel or restaurant owner is responsible for the footpath outside his/her premises and they have a duty of care to keep it litter free.

All this is by way of briefly outlining the problem and asking smokers to watch their butts. Over the coming few months we hope to tackle this litter problem and we will be looking for assistance from the Vintners Association, restaurateurs, hoteliers and others who have a vested interest in ensuring the pathways outside their premises are free of cigarette litter.