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Keeping Britain tidy

According to the Independent on Sunday:

MPs want tobacco companies, takeaway restaurants and chewing-gum manufacturers to spend hundreds of millions of pounds cleaning up the mess their products create ...

Keep Britain Tidy has estimated that indirect costs, such as the impact on health, property values, and encouraging crime, cost the economy an additional £3bn.

See Pick up some of the £1bn litter bill, MPs to tell businesses.

I'm not sure where KBT got their figures from (the back of a cigarette packet, perhaps) but it prompted a couple of acerbic tweets from Imperial Tobacco's Adam Cleave:

My company, incl me, has held numerous talks with KBT. Incoherent plans always aimed at squeezing pointless cash out of business.

Talks stretch back years. No desire to 'clean' in my view; more to ensure continued funding.

It reminded me that in February 2010 I too had a meeting with Keep Britain Tidy to discuss some form of collaboration because litter is an issue I think Forest should address.

There are a number of reasons why. Primarily, tobacco-related litter gives smokers a bad image and anything we can do to improve that image has to be a good thing.

That said, while smokers must take ultimate responsibility for disposing of tobacco-related litter, government has some responsibility too. It was the smoking ban, after all, that forced more people to smoke outside.

At the same time local councils have increasingly refused to install or give planning permission for cigarette bins for fear it will 'normalise' smoking.

Now, despite smokers paying a whopping £12bn a year in tobacco taxation, MPs want to impose a further tobacco levy to pay for the cost of cleaning up!

But back to that meeting with Keep Britain Tidy. I can't remember who initiated it but it followed an email to Forest from KBT asking us to help promote an anti-cigarette litter video.

I posted the video on Taking Liberties (Message to smokers from Keep Britain Tidy) and invited comments from readers.

I then wrote to KBT as follows:

Thanks for your email which I have posted on my blog. You may be interested to read the comments. I wouldn't say they are necessarily representative of the majority of smokers but they do represent the frustration many smokers feel at the barrage of anti-smoking propaganda that is pumped out by government and other agencies on an almost daily basis. Many smokers are simply fed up with the way they are constantly targeted and made to feel like social pariahs for doing no more than consuming a legal product.

On behalf of Forest I should add that we are very keen to improve the image of smokers and I would welcome the opportunity to get involved in a campaign that encourages smokers to dispose of their litter responsibly. (We have for many years distributed pocket ashtrays at party conferences and various social events.) In fact, I would be very interested in working with Keep Britain Tidy on this issue but I don't think this particular video is helpful.

It is so over the top and unrealistic that it completely negates the message it is trying to send. The shot of the child picking up a giant cigarette to her mother's obvious shock and alarm is especially gratuitous. I could almost imagine Forest making a similar video as a spoof to show how extreme the anti-smoking lobby has become.

The problem we have with many cigarette litter campaigns is that, rather than working with smokers to encourage smokers to act responsibly they try to make smokers feel bad about themselves and their habit and this is often backed up with the threat of fines and other penalties.

I think a great many smokers would like to behave responsibly but where are the cigarette bins? I feel that Keep Britain Tidy should do a lot more to persuade local authorities to install (or allow the installation of) cigarette bins on walls and lampposts, for example. Unfortunately we live in an age where the government wants to denormalise smoking and I believe there is a fear that cigarette bins "normalise" the habit.

We can't have it both ways. Over ten million people smoke in the UK, a figure that is not going to change drastically for many years. We can encourage smokers to dispose of their litter responsibly but if we insist on turning smokers into social pariahs - without giving them the means to dispose of their litter - it will breed a great deal of resentment (as you see from the comments on the blog) that will actually be counter-productive.

To repeat, Forest would be happy to discuss a cigarette litter campaign with Keep Britain Tidy just as long as it doesn't become an anti-smoker campaign.

It's almost five years since we met Keep Britain Tidy so I don't think I'm revealing any state secrets if I share some of the points that were made by both sides:

KBT said cigarette litter is one of the most problematic items to remove from the streets. Along with fast food and chewing gum it's in the top three most noticed items of litter.

SC asked whether there had been an increase in cigarette litter since the smoking ban. According KBT, around eight per cent.

SC said in most areas local authorities had not increased the number of outdoor cigarette bins.
KBT agreed that local authorities had not given the ban enough thought (eg where would all the cigarette litter go that would once have been in pub ashtrays?).

KBT said research showed people don't like to have litter on their person, especially cigarette butts which are perceived, even by smokers, to have an unpleasant odour. They prefer to dispose of their cigarettes in a bin rather than a pocket ashtray.

SC said previous meetings with KBT (when it was known as ENCAMS) were unproductive because there was a definite anti-smoking agenda.

KBT said they were not anti-smoking; campaigns were designed to educate people about littering, not smoking itself. They had interviewed smokers and non-smokers and had come to the conclusion it was important to target smokers, which meant they mustn't be deliberately judgemental about the act of smoking itself.

KBT said most smokers don't see cigarette butts as litter. Their main difficulty therefore was how to educate people that it does count as litter.

SC asked what KBT thought of the proposal to ban smoking in and around doorways? KBT said they didn't agree with it because smokers would simply move further away from where bins may be located and drop litter elsewhere.

KBT reported that according to research by Manchester University there is a definite correlation between public perception of a product and the amount of litter it generates. The top two littered brands, McDonalds and Greggs, have both begun initiatives with their own staff to pick up litter in their immediate surroundings with a view to adding value to the product.

SC said Forest was interested in running a 'responsible smoking' campaign but it needed to be handled very carefully in order not to alienate the target audience. The tone must be neither judgemental nor anti-smoking. Asked whether KBT would consider a joint campaign KBT said yes, possibly, but it was dependent on finance.

SC and KBT agreed to keep in contact and look into possible future collaboration.

Although the meeting was very amicable, we didn't keep in contact. In fact I have since been told that taxpayer-funded Keep Britain Tidy now has a policy of non-cooperation with the tobacco industry.

Whether Forest is included in this policy I don't know. I suspect they wouldn't work with us anyway because we can't bring any money to the table and as Adam Cleave has noted funding seems to be their princpal concern.

Meanwhile MPs want tobacco companies (among others) "to spend hundreds of millions of pounds cleaning up the mess their products create" and have invited them to face the House of Commons' Communities and Local Government Committee this week.

I'll keep you posted.

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Reader Comments (5)

As usual, Simon you are spot on. More litter bins or ...

Sunday, January 4, 2015 at 22:19 | Unregistered Commentermjrpeel

Govt will fund scaremongering and offensive campaigns like the rotting flesh roll ups, but won't spend a penny on promotion of responsible behaviour on such things as carrying pocket ashtrays and using streetbins for chewing gum.

As someone who always disposes of my cigarette ends responsibly, I resent ultimately having to fork out more through higher product taxation because Govt has devised another wheeze to screw cash out of smokers,

Sunday, January 4, 2015 at 22:56 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

The Antismoker lobby is using litter (read that as cigarette butts) as a rational for banning smoking in all outdoor spaces.

The issue isn't actually the butts, yes I agree they are offensive, but there was a time when street sweepers and maintenance personnel would pick them up providing employment which seems to be a positive benefit. There was also a time when ash trays and butt cans (bins) were available on sidewalks, in parks, and in front of buildings. These have been removed to denormalize smoking and inconvenience (persecute) smokers. (This is a stated objective of the Antismoker cult.)

This rationale has largely replaced (or at least augmented the second hand smoke rationale--which is extremely weak outdoors). Outdoor bans in parks, at beaches, on patios, and public streets are becoming the new prohibitionist flavor of the day. In some places entire cities are subject to bans.

Littering (including cigarette butts) is offensive and is already sanctioned. These sanctions should be enforced. Enforcement should be augmented by sound environmental design (cigarette and trash bins) and routine maintenance.

Monday, January 5, 2015 at 0:06 | Unregistered CommenterSmoking Lamp

A few months ago I was in Istanbul for a few days, where in compliance with the FCTC they have an indoor smoking ban. However, the streets are amply provided with (what has to be said, rather aesthetically pleasing) dedicated public ashtrays. As a result there is no excuse for anyone to throw their butts in the street. And they generally don't.

Simple, really.

Monday, January 5, 2015 at 17:39 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Sounds like a great idea to make the companies who are selling products that make Britain untidy to pay to clean everything up!

Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 12:02 | Unregistered CommenterClearanceAndClearUp

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