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Photo: Kristina Pritchett

Each month, I spend hours picking up trash on the streets, beaches and creeks. I know cigarette butts are the most common form of litter, are not biodegradable, find their way into the ocean, and effect the ecosystem and food chain.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a “No Smoking in Public Places Ordinance” on the next City Council meeting agenda. I was inspired to start a conversation. I quickly designed cards with some cleanup data, and started walking toward the farmers’ market.

On the cards, I had two questions. “Do you live in Dana Point?” If yes, “Do you know there’s talk in town about smoking in public places?” Most people didn’t know. But most people had a clear position.

“It has to stop now.”

“They have no right to throw cigarette butts around.”

“It’s disgusting. How clean the streets are shows how sophisticated the city is.”

“Are we following Laguna Beach’s lead?” one respondent said with a smile.

Then, I asked if they would sign my cards, one for each council member. More than 30 people signed the cards. No one minded signing six times. Many thanked me for working on such a great cause. I never thought dealing with cigarette butts was such a big deal.

Only two people were against such an ordinance. One said she knew oceanography well, and cigarette butts can all go into the ocean and cause no harm. I’d like to know her background. The other person was for freedom, and thought the city needed to do more street sweeping and cleanup events.

I am a rare trash picker in the foreground. I keep the city informed of my findings. My experience has been that they really listen, and actively work on improvements.

I don’t think of smokers any less. We all have bad habits and desires. I am for freedom, but freedom doesn’t overwrite responsibility. Street sweeping and cleanups only happen after littering. As Pope Francis says, “We live in a throw-away culture and there is nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions.” If freedom to smoke anywhere is what City Council decides on, please carry your cigarette butt to the next trash bin.

HOIYIN IP, Dana Point

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comments (1)

  • In Istanbul, Turkey, there are fixed ashtrays at regular intervals along the kerbside. There is no issue with cigarette butts littering the sidewalk there. That shows a more enlightened and less proscriptive attitude than taking yet more freedoms away from people. Perhaps you should suggest that to your local council, rather than suggesting yet more bans. Smokers are people enjoying a legal product. They have been marginalised and persecuted far too much already. It’s time to end the pogrom and to start deploying a little common sense and humanity.

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