Cigarette Litter Misconceptions

Only 10% of cigarette butts are properly deposited in ash receptacles.  A survey of more than 1,000 smokers found that 35% of smokers toss five or more cigarette butts per pack on the ground, overlooking the consequences of their cigarette butt litter because of its small size.2 Cigarette butts may be small but doesn’t mean that cigarette litter is a small problem. 

Additional cigarette litter research in Australia found that many smokers litter because they: 

  • Don’t believe littering their cigarette butts is inappropriate behavior.  
  • Believe they’re acting responsibly by dropping cigarettes to the ground and stepping on them to extinguish them.
  • Consider dropping butts into gutters or storm drains a safe way to extinguish a cigarette.3
  • Blame their littering on a lack of well-placed receptacles for cigarette butts. Over 80% of smokers said they would properly dispose of their butts if suitable receptacles were available.

To clear up these misconceptions, here are some truths on why smokers litter:

  1. Too few ash receptacles. For every additional ash receptacle, the littering rate for cigarette butts decreases 9%. Unfortunately, only 47% of observed sites have an ash or ash/trash receptacle. And for the past decade, ash trays as a standard feature in new cars have been phased out.4
  2. Litter and cigarette butts are already on the ground. Smokers are more likely to litter if the environment contains any type of litter, not just cigarette butts. In fact, 77% of individuals in an intercept survey report that they thought cigarette butts were litter, but litter already on the ground is a strong predictor of cigarette butt littering.2
  3. Most cigarette and cigar tip littering happens at “transition points.”  Tobacco products comprise 30% of litter at transition points, i.e. areas where a smoker must extinguish a cigarette or cigar before proceeding, such as outside retail stores, restaurants, bars, hotels and office buildings, before entering beaches, parks or other recreation areas; and at roadside rest areas, parking lots, bus shelters, and train platforms. 

Learn more on cigarette butt litter facts and how you can help prevent cigarette litter.

2 "Litter in America" 2009 KAB Research.
3 McGregor Marketing for Keep Australia Beautiful, 1998.
4 Nadeem Muaddi, "Whatever Happened to Car Ashtrays?" The Hog Ring, April 28, 2013.