The Sound on the Ground

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Smoking bad, not smoking good. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.
I think we have all heard this before; second-hand smoke, poor air quality, lies to the public, impotence, and let’s not forget yellow teeth. But there is one specific aspect of a cigarettes that bug me more than anything and that is litter.

My parents were smokers. I would go to school everyday smelling like an ash tray. Before they stopped smoking indoors, the house always had this lovely blue fog about it. But that was their choice you see. I didn’t really much care about if people smoked, but how they smoked. It is easy to see how second-hand smoke has a big impact on others and I think many can agree that this is where the line is drawn. Individuals should not suffer because of another’s personal choices.

So the thing that gets me is when people toss their cigarettes on the ground. I know that this seems innocuous compared to some of the other dangers of smoking but I can’t shake it. A couple of years ago I was at a cottage with an ex. We had car troubles and one of the neighbours came around to see if we needed help. He was a smoker, but what I remember most about this man was how he finished his cigarette. Rather than tossing it on the ground, he thoughtfully put it out on a rock and then pocketed the butt. He understood that this country, cottage country, was meant to be kept beautiful.

I am a ecotoxicologist by trade. That means that I am concerned with micro quantities of substances and how they can have an impact on the environment. So when I see someone discarding a cigarette on the ground what goes through my mind is the old story of bio-accumulation.

You know about that don’t you? A small fish eats something toxic. A bigger fish eats the smaller fish, and a bigger one eats the big fish, and all the way along the toxic things that they eat get worse and worse because they are accumulating. Now think about a cigarette. You’ve probably heard the ads before… cigarettes contain arsenic, benzene, rocket fuel, etc. So some guy is walking down the street and flicks his cigarette on the ground. What do you think happens to all those chemicals that were in the cigarette?

Now let me be fair. The amount or arsenic in a cigarette is pretty small. And it isn’t like someone is going to toss out an entire cigarette, just a fraction of what is left. But what you need to consider is how many butts are being tossed out everyday. Consider what happens to these butts when it rains. The toxins leak out into the ground water or sewers. Millions of tiny portions slowly building up speed.

So this is why I am advocating for a smoke free campus. I know this a roundabout way of rationalizing it, but it is what it is. I equivocate tossing cigarettes with pouring chemicals down the drain, hell right into the river. And you can’t deny that seeing a whole bunch of butts on the ground isn’t shit ugly. And I don’t think that getting people to maybe kick the habit is evil. So all and all I am going to say “DOWN WITH CIGARETTES!”
So let’s get this show on the road.

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