If the Earth could talk, what would she say?
Would she say, “I am here for you to enjoy fresh air, green parks and sandy beaches?” Or would she say, “Hey, you with the cigarette. Don’t dump your gross butts on me?”
Whatever Mother Earth would say, Reality Check advocates from Falconer Central and Olean High School believe we should listen.
They listen every day. But this year, in observance of
they answered by staging a Cigarette Butt Cleanup near their schools and in the surrounding communities.
Students involved in the Reality Check program hope to build awareness about tobacco litter, discourage fellow teens from starting to smoke and ultimately press a policy that bans tobacco use in nearby municipalities.
Smoking is dangerous for the environment and those breathing in the smoke, Reality Check member and Falconer student Bruce Widen observed.
“Parks are public places, but they are mostly filled with kids. When kids see adults smoking, it makes them curious,” he said. “If they are surrounded by the image of smoking, sooner or later they will probably try it.”
Widen said he and his Reality Check group are hoping to end tobacco use and be the first tobacco-free generation.
Littered cigarettes are more than just an eye sore. According to environmental clean-up reports, cigarette butts are the No. 1 littered item in the U.S. roadways and the No. 1 item found on beaches and waterways worldwide. The USDA estimates that about 360 billion cigarettes are consumed in the U.S. each year. Close to two-thirds of those butts — 234 billion — are tossed as litter, according to a study by Keep America Beautiful.
Toxic tobacco trash includes a plastic filter which biodegrades only under extreme conditions, putting wildlife in danger and wreaking costly havoc on our waterways, parks, beaches and roads.
Jonathan Chaffee, Reality Check coordinator of Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany (TF-CCA) and Assistant Coalition Coordinator for Youth Outreach at Roswell Park Cancer Institute sees this butt pickup as another win in a statewide effort to improve health and wellness.
“Flicking cigarette butts in our parks and on our streets adds up to an enormous environmental and public health problem that our communities are left to pay for,” said Chaffee. “A tobacco-free parks policy would foster healthier people, land and waterways.”
City officials in nearby Jamestown enacted a tobacco-free ordinance in all parks and city facilities this summer. The law, which restricts all traditional smokeable items, chewing tobacco and vapor devices, is now enforced at all events held at the parks.