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Butting out: an analysis of support for measures to address tobacco product waste


Background Cigarette butts are ubiquitous litter items, causing major environmental damage and imposing significant clean-up costs. Tobacco companies frame smokers as both the cause of this problem and the source of its solution. However, an extended producer responsibility perspective challenges this view and holds tobacco companies to account for the full life cycle costs of tobacco product waste (TPW).

Methods Using an online cross-sectional survey of 396 New Zealand smokers and 414 non-smokers, we estimated awareness of TPW, attribution of responsibility for TPW and support for interventions to reduce TPW. Descriptive analyses and logistic regression models examined associations between demographic attributes and smoking behaviours, and perceptions of TPW and potential solutions to this problem.

Results Most respondents saw butt litter as toxic to the environment and held smokers primarily responsible for creating TPW. However, when knowledge of butt non-biodegradability increased, so too did the proportion holding tobacco companies responsible for TPW. Changes to product design, fines for littering and expanded smoke-free spaces were considered most likely to reduce TPW. Smokers and non-smokers held different views on measures to address TPW, with smokers favouring more educative approaches and non-smokers more restrictive policies.

Conclusions Strategies to increase awareness of tobacco companies’ role in creating TPW could foster political support for producer responsibility measures that require the industry to manage TPW. Nevertheless, policy measures should continue to foster smoking cessation and decrease uptake, as reducing smoking prevalence presents the best long-term solution to addressing TPW.

  • environment
  • tobacco industry
  • public policy
  • public opinion
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