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Pittsburgh has a big butt problem

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Joe Wos

The days of Pittsburgh as a smoky city are long gone. But one aspect of its smoky past is worse than ever: The streets are littered with more cigarette butts than this column will be littered with cigarette butt puns.

There is no point in trying to further punish cigarette smokers. They already have been cast out into the cold. They’re no longer welcome in restaurants, having been denied their right to blow smoke into our faces, and have become the butts of our jokes.

I, for one, don’t mind if people want to stick leaves in their mouths and light them on fire. But I do mind when they pollute our city, streets, rivers and oceans and cause carp to cough.

According to cigwaste.org, 300 billion cigarettes are sold each year in the United States. Of those 300 billion, one third end up tossed into the environment instead of the proper receptacles. Those butts are non-biodegradeable and leach harmful chemicals.

I’ve witnessed smokers who snuff out their cigarettes on a disposal canister only to drop them on the curb.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Clean Team does a great job getting butts off the streets. (Picture a dozen or so Felix Ungers running around with umbrellas picking up after Oscar Madison’s ashes all over the city.) But the cost of that cleanup is growing in major cities.

San Francisco, for example, spends $7 million every year picking up after cigarette smokers.

To cover costs and curb the curbside littering, our polite neighbors in Canada enforce litter laws. Obviously, they’re too polite to butt in and say, “Excuse me — cough, cough — would you mind terribly not polluting our lovely downtown, eh?”

They have taken the more aggressive route of handing out $250 fines in cities such as Edmonton, Alberta. The difference is noticeable. While an average city block in Pittsburgh might have 200 or more butts, Edmonton has few, if any. The crackdown, combined with receptacles for butt disposal at every bus stop, keeps littering in check.

It’s time Pittsburgh leaders follow suit — not to punish smokers but to punish litterers. Come on, Pittsburgh! Get yinz butts in gear and redd up this city. No ifs, ands or butts!

Joe Wos, a cartoonist, writer and pop culture correspondent for WESA Essential Pittsburgh, lives in Penn Hills.

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