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Covering their butts: responses to the cigarette litter problem
  1. Elizabeth A Smith,
  2. Patricia A McDaniel
  1. University of California, San Francisco, Social and Behavioral Sciences, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Elizabeth A Smith, University of California, San Francisco, Social and Behavioral Sciences, 3333 California Street, Suite 455, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA; libby.smith{at}


Background Cigarette butt litter is a potential target of tobacco control. In addition to its toxicity and non-biodegradability, it can justify environmental regulation and policies that raise the price of tobacco and further denormalise its use. This paper examines how the tobacco industry has managed the cigarette butt litter issue and how the issue has been covered in the media.

Methods We searched the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library ( using a snowball strategy. We analysed data from approximately 700 documents, dated 1959–2006, using an interpretive approach. We also searched two newspaper databases, Lexis/Nexis and Newsbank, and found 406 relevant articles, dated 1982–2009 which we analysed quantitatively and qualitatively.

Results The tobacco industry monitored and developed strategies for dealing with the cigarette litter issue because it affected the social acceptability of smoking, created the potential for alliances between tobacco control and environmental advocates, and created a target for regulation. The industry developed anti-litter programs with Keep America Beautiful (KAB) and similar organisations. Media coverage focused on industry-acceptable solutions, such as volunteer clean-ups and installation of ashtrays; stories that mentioned KAB were also more frequently positive towards the tobacco industry. Among alternative approaches, clean outdoor air (COA) laws received the most media attention.

Conclusions Cigarette litter, like secondhand smoke, is the result of smoker behaviour and affects nonsmokers. The tobacco industry has tried and failed to mitigate the impact of cigarette litter. Tobacco control advocates should explore alliances with environmental groups and propose policy options that hold the industry accountable for cigarette waste.

  • Environment
  • public policy

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  • Funding This study was supported by the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program grant 17IT-0014 and by the National Cancer Institute grant CA120138. Other Funders: NIH; California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.

  • Competing interests EAS and PAM were consultants to the US Department of Justice in its civil suit against the tobacco industry.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.