Read more about what we are doing to combat cigarette butt litter around the city!

Business owners worried about their fronts turning into ashtrays
By Adam Brandolph
Thursday, September 11, 2008

Light, smoke, flick.

It’s an occurrence some business owners fear could become commonplace now that the statewide smoking ban has taken effect. Many are worried their sidewalks will resemble ashtrays.

“I sweep enough out there as it is,” said Sam Shannon, 36, a managing partner at Olive or Twist, Downtown.

Cities like Philadelphia and Chicago already have seen more cigarette butts at “transition points” — places where people must stop smoking before entering a building — since they banned smoking in public places, according to restaurant associations there.

Sarah Alessio, an environmental program specialist for Pennsylvania Resources Council, cited the increase in cigarette litter outside restaurants that remained smoke free after Allegheny County’s ban was struck down last year as further evidence.

“It’s hard to put a number on it, but you imagine that if a bar used to allow smoking, all those people are now going to be smoking outside and flicking their butts in the street,” Alessio said.

Many businesses said they’ll allow patrons to create a revolving door, of sorts — go outside, smoke and come back — to satisfy their nicotine cravings.

“Part of the problem is that smokers don’t know what to do with their cigarette butts,” said Boris Weinstein, founder of Citizens Against Litter in Shadyside. “They can’t throw them away in the waste bins on the sidewalk, because they’ll start a fire. There’s really no place for them.”

Once someone sees a few butts on the street, they feel it’s OK to add to the pile, said Mary Wilson, executive director of Allegheny CleanWays, a nonprofit organization that deals with illegal dumping and littering in Allegheny County.

“People feel that further abuse is tolerated,” Wilson said.

East Liberty and Dormont are two neighborhoods taking a proactive approach. Each community received a $1,500 grant from Keep America Beautiful this summer to address cigarette butts in their respective business districts. The money will be used to purchase receptacles where smokers can put out their cigarettes.

Shop owners in East Liberty regularly clean cigarette butts and other debris off the sidewalk, said Emily Nordquist, community outreach coordinator for East Liberty Development Inc., a neighborhood revitalization group. She said organizers picked up about 2,000 cigarette butts along the commercial business district during a recent sweep.

Litter “demoralizes the sense of community pride,” she said.

“One cigarette is something small,” Nordquist said, “but when there’s a hundred, it’s like a sea of them.”

Tony Ceoffe, executive director of Lawrenceville United, said members of the community organization already have seen cigarette litter go up “exponentially” after some businesses went smoke free in the past year. He attributed much of the litter along Butler Street to people flicking cigarette butts out of their cars.

“It’s just one of those things you have to continue to keep up with,” Ceoffe said. “It’s a constant battle trying to keep the streets clean.”