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NAQC Newsroom: Tobacco Control

New Legacy campaign and PSAs on toxic cigarette litter

Wednesday, April 10, 2013  
Posted by: Natalia Gromov

Yesterday, Legacy and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics launched a bilingual public service announcement campaign titled "Rethink Butts” to raise awareness and mobilize action regarding the harmful environmental impact of cigarette butt litter. You can view and listen to the PSAs (radio and TV) at www.rethinkbutts.org.

A press release on the campaign can be found at: http://www.legacyforhealth.org/newsroom/press-releases/billions-of-pieces-of-toxic-trash-are-leaching-deadly-chemicals.

The PSAs shed light on toxic waste created by cigarette litter and urge Americans to reconsider and stop cigarette butt litter in observance of Earth Day later this month. The campaign aims to encourage the general public to rethink the act of littering tobacco trash while simultaneously serving as an educational resource on ways to address the issue. The campaign and PSAs were featured in a New York Times story today: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/business/media/an-ad-campaign-fights-cigarette-butts-as-toxic-waste.html.

As part of the campaign, Legacy will distribute the PSAs to radio and television stations nationwide as well as post them on social media channels and conduct earned media outreach on the topic.

They’re asking for assistance in in spreading the message during the month of April and have developed a short menu of ideas for your involvement:

  • Download and share the PSA content via your social media and the web during Earth Month in April and throughout the year. The PSAs will be available for download/share on the Legacy Facebook (Facebook/Legacy) page as well as online at RethinkButts.org. Follow Legacy on Twitter (@LegacyforHealth) for content related to this issue.
  • Join a twitter chat about the issue on April 22nd(Earth Day), from 2-3:30 ET via Twitter. The #rethinkbutts will be used at this chat and throughout the month for news and information about the campaign.
  • Download the toolkit with ideas from RethinkButts.org – post this URL, include information in an e-newsletter story, host a clean-up, there are endless ways to help stop toxic litter!

A Campaign Fights the Cigarette Butt, a Ubiquitous Pollutant

By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN

Published: April 8, 2013

LIKE that of the American Lung Association, much of the work of Legacy, a 14-year-old antismoking organization, is aimed at exposing the health risks of cigarettes. Legacy’s Truth campaign, for example, tries to dissuade youths from picking up the habit, while its Ex program helps adults quit.

Now Legacy is introducing a public service campaign that attacks cigarettes on another front: as litter.

A new commercial opens with what appears to be the rusted hull of a beached tanker. Brown and green goo gurgle from its pipes.

"Toxic chemicals and carcinogens are leaking into the environment,” says a voice-over. "It’s happening right where we live, work and play.”

The camera pans along the side of the object until it reaches a band of white, and a charred edge, and then rises above it. What had seemed to be a tanker turns out to be a single cigarette butt scattered among several in a puddle near a sewer grate.

"Cigarette butts are toxic waste,” the voice-over continues. "Let’s stop the toxic litter.”

The campaign is a joint effort between Legacy and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which advocates for environmental stewardship on public land.

The commercial is by the Butler Bros, a branding and production company in Austin, Tex., with animation by the Los Angeles office of Psyop. Distribution of the commercial, which as a public service commercial relies on donated airtime from television networks and individual stations, is by the Plowshare Group.

The campaign, which also includes a Spanish version of the commercial, introduces a new Web site, RethinkButts.org, and is timed to begin in advance of Earth Day, April 22.

"We have to change societal norms in terms of littered cigarette butts,” said Cheryl G. Healton, the chief executive of Legacy, which is based in Washington, and was created by the 1998 master settlement agreement between states and the tobacco industry. "I see people throwing cigarette butts out their car windows all the time, but I don’t see people throwing cans out their windows.”

Ms. Healton said that her group had been fighting cigarette litter for about three years, and she said she saw it as akin to campaigns against secondhand smoke.

"Both secondhand smoke and butts that go into the ground and waterways make smoking a pretty dangerous addiction for our environment,” Ms. Healton said.

Smokers litter cigarette butts rather than disposing of them properly 65 percent of the time, making it the most frequently littered item, according to observational data from Keep America Beautiful. The group also found that cigarette butts made up 38 percent of all roadside litter.

And more than 1.03 million cigarette butts were removed from American beaches in 2011 as part of the annual international coastal cleanup by the Ocean Conservancy, making it the most commonly littered item and representing 28 percent of all debris collected.

Thomas E. Novotny, a professor of global health at San Diego State University, said that while no direct link had been demonstrated between littered cigarette butts and human health, the butts leach measurable amounts of cadmium, arsenic, lead and nicotine.

A single cigarette butt in a liter of water containing minnows is toxic enough to kill half of the fish within 96 hours, a standard toxicity test, according to an experiment featured in an article published in the journal Tobacco Control that Professor Novotny helped write.

"We can’t show that there’s actually human harm but we should look at it as a potential harm and prevent it from contaminating the environment,” said Professor Novotny.

The belief among some smokers that cigarettes are biodegradable is incorrect, said Professor Novotny, noting that most filters in cigarettes contain cellulose acetate, a plastic substance.

Marty Butler, director of creativity at Butler Bros, said his team had considered approaches that would highlight that cigarette butts were the most commonly littered item.

"But what rose to the top instead was the fact that the butts contain chemicals that produce poisons, heavy metals, pesticides, awful stuff like that,” Mr. Butler said.

The scale-shifting concept — what appears to be a single, continuous shot of a monstrous industrial polluter turns out to actually be a single cigarette butt — was straightforward on storyboards, but mind-boggling to execute digitally.

"The point of view that we established was as if a helicopter was flying along a cigarette butt” and then ascended to about six feet above it, Mr. Butler said.

For Psyop, which usually makes appetizing animated content for brands like Pepsi and Planter’s, the subject matter was decidedly darker, said David Chontos, a creative director at Psyop.

"We very rarely in advertising get an opportunity to participate in something like this,” said Mr. Chontos. "A soft-drink company would not ask us to make a toxic-waste factory.”

While the spot renders cigarette butts as disgusting, it does not explicitly tell viewers to stop littering, an approach that appeals to Mr. Chontos, who is a smoker.

"I don’t want people to yell at me and tell me what to do, and would rather be provided with the information and make the decision myself,” said Mr. Chontos, who confessed that until recently he had discarded his butts on the ground.

"But I haven’t thrown a cigarette on the ground since I started working on this spot, which I think is the whole point,” Mr. Chontos said.

When Professor Novotny sees someone on his university campus throw out a cigarette butt, he does not hesitate to pick it up, hand it back and chide the smoker about the environmental impact.

"It helps,” Professor Novotny explained in an e-mail message, "to be a gray-haired professor type.”

Source: Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids

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