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Message to Keep Britain Tidy

Yesterday, in Manchester, Keep Britain Tidy launched a new campaign, BinTheButt.

I'll comment on that shortly but it reminded me that in 2009 KBT released a 40-second video that offered a dystopian vision of Londoners struggling through a sea of ash and cigarette butts.

The film was drawn to our attention by KBT themselves. In an email to Forest, their marketing coordinator wrote:

As an organisation which regularly communicates with the smoking community, we’re looking for your support to help us to spread our message.

We would be grateful if you would help us to promote the film, for example by publishing it on your website or forwarding it on to anyone you think may be interested.

Keen to know what readers thought of it, I posted it here (Message to smokers from Keep Britain Tidy).

Some of the comments were less than complimentary – to the extent that they prompted this reaction from KBT's marketing and communications manager:

In all of our advertising to reduce cigarette butts we have tried to ensure not to alienate smokers but just encourage them to use a personal ashtray or put it in the bin.

Our research shows that many smokers believe that butts are not litter, and when sent this advert we believed this would go some way to helping raise awareness of the issue.

You will see from our website that we run campaigns on all litter issues, not just smoking litter, and all we are trying to achieve is a cleaner country.

We sent this advert to Forest to inform them of the film and we are in no way making any comment on people's right to smoke!

This is not a personal attack on smokers and I am disappointed that this has now become a personal attack on one of my colleagues.

Despite this, a meeting was arranged with representatives of Keep Britain Tidy at Forest's old office in Wardour Street, Soho.

It took place in February 2010 and I eventually wrote about it here (Keeping Britain tidy).

At the time, in an email to a colleague who asked how it went, I commented:

The meeting was OK, quite friendly but a bit inconclusive. We seemed to have more ideas than they did about what we would like to do.

I was happy to meet and even work with Keep Britain Tidy because I genuinely believe smokers should take more responsibility for their butts and other smoking-related litter.

That said, smokers need some assistance and the smoking ban, which forces everyone to smoke outside, doesn't help.

Nor does the absence of cigarette bins which many councils are reluctant to install or give planning permission for in case they 'normalise' smoking.

As an aside, in 2010 Westminster City Council actually took the taxi firm Addison Lee to court for sponsoring wall-mounted cigarette bins outside pubs and clubs.

As LBC presenter Iain Dale wrote at the time (Jobsworth madness From Westminster City Council):

You'd have thought they would welcome them as something which helps keep Westminster's streets clean and tidy. But on the contrary.

In the absence of cigarette bins there are of course pocket ashtrays. The problem with pocket ashtrays is that while they are a neat promotional tool, they're not always very practical.

The best I’ve seen was a beautiful brown leather pouch that looked as if it would last a lifetime. It wasn’t cheap and it's no coincidence that the only person I could genuinely recommend it to was a multimillionaire - the late Felix Dennis – whose PA rang me one day to ask if I could suggest a suitable receptacle for her employer’s butts. (At the time Dennis was thought to smoke 40-60 cigarettes a day.)

Anyway, our relationship with Keep Britain Tidy didn’t go beyond that initial flirtation, probably because we couldn't offer them any money.

KBT did however work with two tobacco companies – Imperial and JTI – on a campaign called Love Where You Live which was set up 'to encourage individuals, companies and local groups to clean up after themselves'.

Coordinated by KBT, other partners included the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), McDonalds and Wrigley (the chewing gum people).

I understand that the tobacco companies contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds to the campaign. Defra also contributed.

In January 2013, however, under pressure from the tobacco control industry, David Cameron’s Coalition government pulled its support.

In a letter from parliamentary under-secretary Lord de Mauley to David Stapleton, chairman of Smokefree Somerset, de Mauley wrote:

Mindful if the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control we have now agreed an exit strategy ... Defra’s grant to Keep Britain Tidy has been reduced since the beginning of the Spending Review period and the campaign-related grant is to end in just over a year.

Shockingly, even though the companies were willing to support Keep Britain Tidy's efforts, de Mauley concluded his letter with these unequivocal words:

The Government categorically does not endorse the activities of tobacco companies.

What, not even when they're offering to help improve the environment?!

Anyway, in December 2013 the board of Keep Britain Tidy cravenly threw in the towel. Capitulating to Defra and the even more absurd Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control (signed, of course, by the likes of Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, and the-then public health minister Jane Ellison, who now works for the WHO in Geneva), KBT severed all ties with the tobacco industry.

In 2015, speaking to MPs at a meeting of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Giles Roca, director of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, commented:

"Keep Britain Tidy decided in December 2013 that it would no longer have any activity with the tobacco industry whatsoever. KBT will not deal with the tobacco industry. Local government will not deal with the tobacco industry on litter ...

We need leadership at a local level and at the national level. At the minute, Keep Britain Tidy will not talk to us. The board of Keep Britain Tidy passed a resolution in December 2013 that said it would not talk and not engage with the tobacco industry, which quite frankly is just preposterous."

And so to yesterday and the launch of KBT's latest campaign, BinTheButt, which was notable for several things but mostly the absence of two major stakeholders – the tobacco industry and the consumer.

Given the nature of the launch - the location (Manchester, home of the 'Making Smoking History' campaign), the crass, barely intelligible slogan (‘Flicking Blue Murder’), and the fact that there was no mention of councils providing more cigarette bins to help smokers dispose of their butts - I’m not sure Forest would have endorsed it anyway, but that’s not the point.

The point is that KBT has launched a campaign targeting smokers and two stakeholders who should be involved – manufacturers and consumers – have been sidelined and ignored because of a decision taken by a previous CEO who gave in to a politically motivated interpretation of a treaty that has absolutely nothing to do with litter!!

To be fair, I've heard good things about Allison Ogden-Newton, the current CEO of Keep Britain Tidy, and it's ridiculous that she should have her hands tied by a decision that was made before she took the job.

For the record, I am more than happy to reach out – again – to KBT. We can't bring money to the table but we can help promote their cigarette litter campaign if they are prepared to listen to what we have to say.

But first I would advise them to drop the 'FlickingBlueMurder' theme. One slogan (BinTheButt) is quite enough and if KBT want to get smokers onside without alienating them even further, accusing an already beleaguered minority of "poisoning our oceans" is probably not the way to do it.

Frankly, it smacks of a too clever by half PR/advertising agency with very little first-hand knowledge of smokers.

Speak to Forest however (and, dare I say it, the tobacco industry) and KBT will get far more sense than they'll get from tobacco control campaigners working with unelected but politically driven bureaucrats in Westminster (Department of Health) and Geneva (World Health Organisation).

Instead, by launching the BinThe Butt campaign in Manchester and screaming 'blue murder' at those who smoke, all KBT has done is confirm what many smokers already think – that Keep Britain Tidy is really just an offshoot of the multi-billion pound tobacco control industry that won't rest until every one of Britain's 7-8 million smokers has been bullied or shamed into quitting.

Anyway, here is Forest's response to KBT's new campaign – "A bin the butt campaign that ignores the importance of bins is a bit of a joke, to be honest."

Finally, I've just been re-reading the comments on my 2009 post (Message to smokers from Keep Britain Tidy) and this one by idlex (aka blogger Frank Davis) made me laugh:

I've not seen the film, but then I don't really need to. I stopped at the Badger and Ferret this afternoon, and the front door was, as ever, littered with giant cigarette butts. I had to be dragged over them with main force by a few of the stout regulars inside, who'd shouted "Reach out your hand, and hold tight."

Once inside, I rapidly realised that it was just as hard to get out as it was to get in, and so perforce I was obliged to stay far longer than I had intended, and eventually had six whole pints of Old Froggie rather than my usual half. When I was eventually dragged back out, I found that the street outside was also littered with the same enormous butts, and I had to drive very carefully to negotiate a path around them.

I had almost arrived home when I encountered a council crane, replete with flashing blue lights, busily working to lift away butts from an enormous pile of the things that had blocked the whole road. As a result I had to find another way home, which took me past the Cow and Partridge, at which I stopped for another much-needed refreshing quick half, which once again turned into another six pints of their finest Speckled Boar.

I eventually arrived home at a quarter to midnight (after another enforced stop at the Lizard and Petrel) to find my wife beside herself and worried that I'd been at the booze again. Happily I was able to calm her fears, ascribing my tardiness to the many giant cigarette butts that litter the streets and paths these days, and which our feckless councils seem to be unable to clear away. It doesn't seem to be getting any better, either. Why, only last week ...

Click here to read the other comments, including that response from Keep Britain Tidy.

See also: Keeping Britain Tidy, and Keeping Britain Tidy, part two.

PS. On the subject of pocket ashtrays, if money isn't an issue I rather like the look of this black leather and brass pocket ashtray from Yohji Yamamoto – price, £315.

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Reader Comments (5)

These campaigns on cigarette butts are thinly veiled attacks on smokers. The cigarette litter campaigns are used as a pretext for smoking bans and sowing societal division. The removal of ash trays in public places contributes to both the perception of litter and the justification to persecute smokers. A reasonable anti-litter campaign would restore ash trays in public spaces.

Thursday, August 30, 2018 at 19:02 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

I suspect that there’s a number of competing forces at work here. First and foremost, when any campaign group not previously dedicated exclusively against smokers suddenly starts linking “their” supposed aims (in this case anti-litter) specifically at smokers, it’s a sure sign that for whatever reason they’re losing support/funding/impetus and they hope that by hanging onto the coat-tails of the “magical” anti-smoking message, suddenly their fortunes will improve. It’s a cheap shot which smacks ever so slightly of desperation. It would be interesting to know a bit more about how KBT’s fortunes have been going over the last few years.

It’s interesting, too, to note that they’ve also linked this campaign to the other “fashionable” topic at the moment – marine health. Again, it’s a sign of a campaign group which is beginning to run out of ideas of its own if it has to jump onto any other bandwagon which seems to be getting a bit of attention at the moment. KBT has always traditionally been largely a town-centre-type, land-based campaign group, encouraging people to use bins and not drop rubbish in the streets, not a campaigning environmental group – we’ve already got plenty of those. And the sea, of course, (and the problem with rubbish and plastic in it) is a worldwide one, not one which solely affects British shores. So why is a campaign group whose very name indicates their concern with this country think that it’s pertinent to link this latest wheeze to what is, in effect, a worldwide problem? Perhaps they are thinking of re-branding themselves as “Keep the WORLD Tidy.” Best of luck with that, KBT!

Or perhaps this campaign is the brainchild of an over-enthusiastic ad man who thinks that hooking an anti-litter campaign to two currently “popular” subjects is a sure-fire way of hitting the headlines. If so, then he/she is showing their lack of imagination and/or experience if they don’t realise that the public are now pretty wise to the stretching of connections in this way. (The linking of any and all “causes” to the old canard “for the sake of the cheeldren,” like some kind of trump card, has taught them that). It also shows a woeful lack of awareness of his/her “market” if he/she hasn’t yet worked out that the general public are, to be frank, bored to the back teeth with endless anti-smoking campaigns - even non-smokers, and even if they broadly agree with them. Even many of the indifferent non-smokers I know have started to roll their eyes whenever something obscure is linked to smoking these days, so strong is “anti-smoker fatigue.” If this is the case, then KBT have spent a lot of money on a – no doubt expensive – ad agency, which I suspect they can ill afford to waste.

Friday, August 31, 2018 at 2:08 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Stuff KBT and it's refusal to work with smokers. Let's ignore them and instead launch our own #pocketthebutt campaign and try and educate smokers about using pocket ashtrays.

Perhaps Forest could get some made up with your logo on to give out in the street?

Friday, August 31, 2018 at 14:35 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Will definitely look into it, Pat. We have given out pocket ashtrays before but a national campaign requires a lot money. The KBT campaign has a minimum budget of £400k that was given to them by the Postcode Lottery.

Friday, August 31, 2018 at 16:03 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Can't understand why makers of pocket ashtrays don't, or can't make their products more widely known.

Sunday, September 9, 2018 at 18:43 | Unregistered CommenterJenty Burrill

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