January 6, 2014

It's time to extinguish Vancouver's butt collection project

Cigarette butts are the leading source of litter, both by number or weight, both in Canada and worldwide, where billions are littered daily. They are unsightly, non-biodegradable and toxic to the environment.

We recognize the need for programs to eliminate cigarette litter, and therefore appreciate the City of Vancouver's intentions when planning its cigarette butt collection and recycling pilot project.

However, this particular program has been managed in ways that cause many serious public health concerns, and we cannot support it in its current form.

The City's program re-normalizes smoking

"Receptacle"-based programs counter a principal public health tenet - the denormalization of tobacco use. Government programs should aim to lessen the visibility and acceptability of the tobacco industry and smoking.

Vancouver's canisters are de-facto ashtrays which imply tacit government consent, acceptance and even approval of widespread smoking in public. They strengthen the impression that smoking is common, and create smoking zones in public places. Such re-normalization of smoking is directly aligned with the strongest interests of the tobacco industry. 

The City's program undermines its own smoke-free regulations

Many of the receptacles are located within the six metre no-smoking buffer zone around doorways, windows, or other air intakes. This encourages violations of the City's Health Bylaw

The City's program reflects an unacceptable partnership with the tobacco industry

Although the City of Vancouver has not drawn attention to this fact, its cigarette recycling program was invented and funded by  Canada's largest tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco Canada ltd.

It has long been accepted that government should not partner with the tobacco industry. This principle is reflected in a global tobacco treaty (ratified by Canada almost a decade ago) which obligates governments to protect such programs from tobacco industry interference.

The cigarette recycling program is part of this industry's global attempts to circumvent or blunt the impact of laws aimed at improved health.

Better options are available.

We encourage British Columbia and other provinces to develop a province-wide deposit-return-based program for the elimination of cigarette litter. The City of Vancouver should reorient its efforts in this direction.

A deposit-return program would involve the return of complete packs of used filters to central depots for refunds, and would eliminate the need for any receptacles. Such a program would decrease the visibility of smoking and of tobacco litter and would further the public health mandate to denormalize the tobacco industry.

If properly designed, it would also be much more effective at achieving its objective of protecting the environment from the toxic impact of discarded cigarette butts. As shown in the picture above, Vancouver's program has not solved the tobacco problem of cigarette litter.

For information:  (613) 233 4878