As of the end of July, B.C. has had 1,418 wildfires, burning an estimated 282,000 hectares of land.
Approximately 30 per cent of those fires have been caused by people, and while improperly extinguished campfires, industrial activities and vehicles igniting vegetation are responsible for many of the human-caused fires, improperly discarded cigarette butts has come to the forefront like never before.
As more of the province’s (and the country’s) forests burn due to human causes, calls for action on the illegal tossing of cigarette butts are becoming more prevalent.
Fines have been increased, hotlines have been added and media campaigns have been launched.
Tracy Smith has another plan.
Smith was a park maintenance worker on Salt Spring Island for many years and spent much of her time cleaning up after others.
“No one should be cleaning up cigarette butts,” she said. “The responsible parties are the smokers and the manufacturers…no one else should have to be involved in the smokers’ experience.”
That said, Smith believes there’s a better way to address the problem than handing out fines.
“Punishing ex-post facto will simply alienate the smoker who will want to just not get caught, but it won’t inspire a change in preventing the flicking habit in the first place,” she said.
Smith thinks the best way to address the problem is through education.
She has developed an awareness tool called the Out-Smart Campaign.
“The Out-Smart Campaign is designed to emotionally engage the current and future smoker; to identify with being outside smart, or to put their cigarette out in a smart way,” she explained. “To care and be consciously aware of the consequences caused by careless cigarette disposal.”
She teamed up with Record editorial cartoonist Bob Castle to design a campaign “spokesperson”, so to speak: Smart Marty. The cartoon character is shown giving the “thumbs up” sign, with the message “keep it in the vehicle” on posters, and as a mascot, Smart Marty will deliver the message that “flicking” cigarette butts just isn’t smart.
“I picture Smart Marty being present at all kinds of outdoor events where, I can tell you, cigarette litter is a major issue for event planners and waste management control,” Smith said, who also envisions bumper stickers and posters with the message on them, wherever cigarettes are sold.
And, for those who don’t want to fill their vehicle’s ashtray with discarded cigarette butts, a point of purchase product line is planned: a fire retardant-filled, disposable pouch.
“According to the research I’ve done, smokers just don’t like to dirty their own ashtrays (in their vehicles) and even though there are all kinds of options to carry their own personal ashtrays, they just don’t,” said Smith. “So I designed this pouch where smokers could put their butts in and never take them out again. They don’t smell, they don’t burn. They just fill the container and when it’s full the whole thing just goes in the garbage.”
The next step for Smith is marketing the campaign. She plans on approaching the tobacco companies to discuss possible partnerships as soon as September.
“They are in a position to distribute it and run with it in a big way,” she said, adding that it would not be the first time the tobacco giants partnered with other groups. “When I discovered that Imperial Tobacco partnered with TerraCycle in the collection and recycling of filtered cigarette butts, it became apparent that the tobacco companies are willing to contribute to the solution.”
She said the key is awareness, but in a non-confrontational manner.
“The key is to be hard on the problem and soft on the people,” said Smith. “Smokers are inundated with negativity. From pollution, to other people who don’t like it, to health matters, they are often being judged.
“So to throw something negative at them is not going to help. We have to negotiate with them, try to get them to change their attitudes. Hopefully the smoker 10 years down the line is going to be aware of Smart Marty, and understand the message that we are trying to get across here. If we can get the message out there, the future smoker is going to identify with caring about the environment and being ‘outside smart.’”