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Smokers, don't use the curb as your ashtray


GENERALLY, I like to live and let live, but certain types of drivers just get my radiator in an uproar.

Sara Richards agrees. "I hate smokers who seem to feel no remorse for throwing their cigarette butts out the window," she said. "All you have to do is look out your window at any traffic light next time you are waiting for the light to turn green to see the curb covered with used cigarettes butts. It's disgusting!

"What I don't understand is that most of these offenders would never dream of throwing out a used fast food bag, but they'll toss their butts out almost [without thinking]. Trash is trash! If you don't want to keep that smelly butt in your car, then don't smoke in your car. The highways and the byways are not your trash can!"

However, Ms. Richards, look on the bright side: Those anti-litter campaigns have produced results. Since 20 years ago, many drivers would not have thought twice about tossing beer cans or hamburger wrappers out their windows.

Now all that we're complaining about are cigarette butts.

But no buts about it, smokers who litter really burn me up, too. Last week, a car idled in front of my home while the driver made a cell phone call (give him points for not driving while distracted). I was amazed to see the driver throw a cigarette butt on my beautifully manicured lawn. Insult to injury, on the way home from the bus stop the next day, my son and I found a used-up cigarette lighter.

According to Keep America Beautiful, while cigarette butts might be much smaller and less visible on the ground than other types of litter, they have a significant impact on our environment. Cigarette butts are the most frequently littered item there is, with smokers tossing away about 4.5 trillion cigarette butts yearly.

And don't think they are bio- degradable. That's a rationalization of littering smokers. While the outside paper wrapping may (or may not, according to some studies) decompose in one to 12 years, the filters are made of a type of acetate that does not completely break down. If you doubt my word, throw a few cigarette butts in your yards, and take note of how long it takes for them to completely disappear (blowing away in the wind doesn't count). I hope I'm still writing this column when your cigarette butts disintegrate.

Are drivers who think the world is their ashtray clueless about the environment? In the summers, cigarette butts flying out of windows are a fire hazard; in winter they're just ugly.

Littering roadways with cigarette butts is inconsiderate at best. It is also dangerous and illegal - you are littering, after all. If you're not convinced by the obvious lack of aesthetics of littering, then think with your wallet: if you're caught, you can be fined up to $1,000. Show consideration, and keep your butts to yourselves. There's a reason vehicles have ashtrays, or at least have them as an option. If a cigarette butt is good enough for your mouth, it is good enough for your ashtray.

Keep the letters coming

This column began Dec. 11, 2001. Three years and 155 columns later, I tip my transmission to you, the readers - you've kept this column going week after week after week with your comments, questions and yes, complaints. Keep them coming, and I'll try to seek out answers.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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