Consideration better than fine for butts

Whether you’re a smoker or not, a bill currently in the Oregon Legislature could make a difference in your life.

It’s Senate Bill 607, which would make flicking a cigarette butt to the ground in a public place a Class D litter violation, punishable by a $90 fine.

The bill would amend an existing law banning “offensive littering” – such actions as depositing garbage on or otherwise degrading somebody else’s property or creating an “objectionable stench” thereupon – to include the tossing of cigarette or cigar butts on someone else’s land or on any public road, trail, beach, park, etc.

The bill was conceived by a Portland park ranger, Deb Schallert, who has tried to get similar bills through the Legislature in recent years, without success.

Legislators acknowledge that cigarette butts are covered by some existing litter laws, and the problem is that nobody really enforces them.

Along with three bills that would raise taxes on cigarettes in 2012, this one seems to have its cross-hairs focused directly on hapless smokers – except, there is a point to made here.

That is, it’s never been cool to toss butts on the street, someone else’s yard or somewhere in the wild. If cigarettes were still simply paper and tobacco, they would eventually decompose. But unfortunately the filters, which help keep smokers alive, are made of an acetate that doesn’t ever fully break down.

Of course, there is also the danger of fire during the dry months. Nearly 90 percent of forest fires are caused by human beings, and a lot of those are from tossed cigarettes.

We’re not eager to see one more law passed that would be left up to police officers to enforce. If we believed this law would actually accomplish the purpose of discouraging thoughtless smokers from littering the streets, we would be more supportive.

Cigarette butts and, to a lesser extent, cigar butt litter is an imposition by smokers – unsightly garbage., which some describe as a “militant” smokers’ rights group (it bills itself as “Home of Smokers with Attitude”) advises: “Considerate smokers don’t litter. Those who do deserve criticism as much as any other litterer.”

Well put. Yes, life has gotten tough for smokers. They’ve been ostracized, taxed and otherwise pressured to quit.

It’s not just health risks. Litter problems are one reason some universities and colleges have banned on-campus smoking.

Whether this proposed law gets legs or not, the bottom line is that smokers would do well to be considerate. Yes, if they want to pay the price for a legal and dangerous activity, that’s their right.

But, law or no law, if they want to preserve that right, they would do well to safely and conscientiously dispose of their litter somewhere besides in the public eye.