The World is My Ashtray

Cigarette ButtI found myself waiting for a red light behind another vehicle this week. That vehicle's driver had his window down, his elbow on the sill and was holding what was left of his cigarette between left thumb and forefinger. I knew exactly what was going to happen: one last drag on the butt and flick, away it went into the ditch.

What's more, if I looked to my left I would almost think that I was stopped next to an ashtray. The ground was covered with discarded butts left to smoulder into oblivion by people who probably didn't stop to think of the potential for destruction that their action represented.

I agree, between October and April of each year there might not be a lot of risk, but once the habit is formed it will continue through May to September without a second thought.

The best illustration of this were drivers that I had stopped for a traffic violation. Occasionally as I walked up to the driver's door they would toss a butt out onto the pavement. I would offer to pick it up but warned that it would cost them if I did. They could choose to do it themselves for free.

There was usually a pause at this point while the driver tried to decide if I was serious or not. Sometimes it took a while, but all of them eventually decided I was and got out to retrieve their garbage.

Now what? In many of these situations the ashtray in the vehicle was as clean as the day it had been installed at the factory. The driver would look around for something else to use and only reluctantly put it in the ashtray as a last resort.

Obviously, some people always toss their butts out the window regardless of the time of year or risk in doing so.

One might think that even if a fire were to start, the grassy median between two strips of double laned asphalt would contain it and nothing too serious would happen. My experience shows otherwise, as I have seen median fires fanned by winds that easily jumped across the pavement and either started into the forest or toward homes and businesses.

Half of the forest fires in BC each year are caused by human activity and smoking materials are high on the list of culprits.

If you are a smoker, please use your ashtray. If you don't, you never know who might be watching and may choose to provide your licence plate number to police. A violation ticket for discarding that butt under the Wildfire Act carries a penalty of $575 no matter what time of year it is.

The case of R v Barre is an example of instances that are dealt with by a court appearance rather than a traffic ticket. Mr. Barre admitted starting the Barriere McLure fire in July 2003.

There is no indication that Mr. Barre was required to pay for fire control costs, but there is provision for this in the Wildfire Act.


A few years ago I was behind a driver that tossed a cigarette butt out the window. I took his license plate and was able to get a description of him and his vehicle. I phoned the forestry service and they said they couldn't or wouldn't do anything unless there was a fire that actually started. I was a bit shocked and said, that is almost like shooting a gun in a public place, but if no one gets hurt there are no charges. Kind of sad really, but I guess the law is the law. I would love to see the fine for littering tripled or quadrupled if it is a cigarette or cigar or matches etc. The only way to stop it is to put some teeth into the penalty.

Things have changed and technically we do not have a forest service anymore. Personally I would say you only got to talk to a secretary. Going back 60 years when I worked with the F.S. charges would have been pursued.

It's unfortunate the B.C. Forest Service use to have its own training school, Green Timbers Ranger School, and many employees were trained there and knew the Forest Act. Today they come from tech schools and are not as well versed in the Forest Act.

I am a smoker BUT I do not smoke in any vehicle what so ever. My van doesn't even have an ashtray in it. When I do smoke I do discard my butt onto the ground at times BUT I make sure it is grounded out so much that not even a street person would be able to retrieve it for some tobacco.
TO BAD not everyone is as careful!
A smoker who is surround by forests in all directions.

Aside from the obvious perils of starting a fire, there are also dangers to other road users. The habit of flicking the cigarette away from a vehicle at speed doesn't mean it drops to the ground, it takes a bit of a flight. Where it stops, anyone knows. I ride a motorcycle, for fun and environmental reasons (it's the cleanest of our 3 vehicles and burns the least fuel so it produces the least greenhouse gases). I can't count how many times I have had a flying cigarette hit me over the past 45 years I've been riding. Bicyclists and pedestrians are also at risk. Believe me, a burning ember in the eye is no laughing matter.

So if I report it to the police what happens? Seems like there's little likelihood of any action on such a 'minor' matter when it's hard to get action when you report hyper-aggressive driving or out-of-control apparent drunks. If there's no body count it doesn't matter? How the heck are we ever going to get people to act responsibly if we never have any consequences for irresponsible behaviour? Or willfully harmful behaviour.

Sorry, had to rant.

It is difficult not to be a bit less than impressed with the diligence of police prosecution efforts - and the way in which policing is allocated - when one is a member of a marginalized segment of society, whatever that is. My experience has forced upon me the belief that it really does matter to the responding officers, or agencies, who sees - and reports - the cigarette butt lofted, and who does the lofting. The same holds true for all antisocial behaviour on our roads and elsewhere. Beneath a thin veneer of diversity and equal opportunity, ours is a deeply tribalized society. Unless we can evolve beyond this, police response is likely to remain as I know it to be.

It is possible that this is the wrong forum . . .

Here's the short version:
a) I am a biker.
b) I am a trucker.
c) I am an ex-convict.
d) I am first-generation Canadian, born elsewhere in the world, with long experience of the xenophobia frequently evident to immigrants.

Choose any of the above, and you will see - as the unusually perceptive ex-police officer I know you to be - that public opinion (the pigeonhole, if you will) into which such a person fits is not conducive to great deference. Not the level of respectfulness which might be showed to, shall we say, television news personalities, Government bureaucrats or successful entertainers.
Put 'em all together, along with an assertive attitude and - what is worse - an apparent inability to act in a self-effacing manner, and you may begin to see how I can attract the wrong kind of attention.

I tell you, a high pain threshhold can be a curse.

In reply to by hotshoe36 (not verified)

with being any of the 4 people that you listed.

Generally as a police officer on an initial contact with people I had no idea of their background and hopefully responded to them at face value. No doubt I have my own prejudices and probably even act on them unconsciously, but these days I'm not so sure that I don't hold the four types of person you mention above some of the "personalities." Some of my experiences with the medical profession and bureaucrats have been less than endearing too.

Subsequent contacts, however, are often flavoured based on what has happened before and this can be difficult to overcome on both sides. Keep can make a personal difference.

That is my plan, right here. We are all the sum of our experience, but for too long I believed that was as far as it went. One of the things I've learned late is that most of us spend the second half of our lives getting over the first half. Another is, one learns to write by writing.
Too bad everyone's not as smart as we are, hey? There oughta be a manual on that. I have decided: I'll quit learning as soon as I have died. Maybe.

My wife and I saw this happen while on the highway near Chilliwack. We were a several  cars back, when a ‎button was thrown out, by the time we past the spot, the fire had spread to about ten feet, in the median.

I was not aware, reporting a plate number was an available option. Will remember that the next time.

 ... but the issue of cigarette butts tossed around casually ... anywhere ... is a real source of aggravation for me.

Any kind of littering bothers me ... a lot ... I find it to be entirely inconsiderate of nature and every other creature on this planet, human or otherwise.

If you think you can just casually toss anything you want from a vehicle, moving or otherwise, on to the street and surrounding areas, you should be prepared, at most, to lose your vehicle, your licence and your financial future in the case of wildfire starters, and, at the very least, for a public shaming and a severe financial hit for all littering.

Interestingly, like many others, I have observed that if an environment is littered and allowed to remain that way, the problem grows exponentially worse over time due to a seeming pre-ponderance of apathetic human behaviours ...

Whereas an environment that is maintained in a more pristine condition seems to remain so much longer, with fewer interventions for maintenance, because fresh litter evidence is so obvious and much more likely to induce feelings of guilt on the part of the littering offender.  An exception to this seems to be smokers and their discarded butts ... these offenders evidently seem to feel their transgression is so trivial as to no longer even merit concious thought.  The trick is to get them to think about it ... thus, severe fines and a coordinated effort to shame offenders and raise public awareness through media campaigns funded by same.

The other forms of contamination of this planet's biosphere (i.e. radioactive & industrial waste, complemented by the scourge of plastics in our oceans & lands and toxins in our own bodies) are absolutely huge by comparison ... and seemingly entirely out of hand from what I can see ... where exactly do the 1%'ers intend to live?  Mars?  In orbit?  Underground?  Good luck with that.  So short-sighted ... and such a shame ...

On the (tiniest of) bright side(s), I have seen a steady decrease over time in the number of smokers in our progressively more enlightened Canadian society ... so, there's that ...


That one could quickly pickup what they through out and throw it back into their vehicle. It's simply disgusting and dangerous on highways. You chose to smoke, you take responsibility for it. You always hope that if you report it that something will come of it but, I guess the need for my HD Dashcams is out there!!!!