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“What’s up with the sense of entitlement to litter that so many cigarette smokers seemingly feel?”

by Prince Of Petworth November 12, 2015 at 2:25 pm 65 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

I’m feeling annoyed today by the smokers who congregate outside the building where I work, 1411 K Street NW, smoking and then littering their cigarette butts and empty packs. What’s up with the sense of entitlement to litter that so many cigarette smokers seemingly feel? I know of no other group of adults that would and do get away with such habitual littering.”

  • Mark

    Related, you can always tell where there’s a bar or nightclub by looking for the gum on the sidewalk.

  • Patrick Division

    Why do you think that a group of people who don’t care if they poison your oxygen supply would actually be concerned with littering in a public space?

  • P Streeter

    Move on and get on with your life, miserable person.

    • John M

      Property management could also put out a smoker’s pole.

      • alpinepaq

        Yeah, it’s totally the property manager’s fault that these people choose to burn leaves wrapped in paper and throw the wrappers on the ground when they’re done. Go home, you’re wrong and self-entitled.

        • samanda_bynes

          it kind is, dude. if they are that close to a building, in that much of a capacity, it’s prolly both customers and employees who smoke.

    • Anonymous Coward

      Spoken like a true litterbug. Some of us have pride in our surroundings. =/

    • Alex

      I hope that you either develop some compassion, or lung cancer.

      • um

        As someone whose husband has lung cancer not caused by smoking, I hope that no one wishes this upon anybody else because compassion.

        • V

          agreed. my dad had lung cancer and survived, but it’s a horrible horrible situation and to wish that on someone is so very mean…

  • jdc

    Oh grow up. Smoking is hardly going to “poison your oxygen supply”. A car driving one block does about as much to “poison your oxygen supply” as a person smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. Please spare the theatrics and hysteria.

    • Ally

      As someone who had to watch her mother battle cancer twice and her father die from it, I resent having to walk through a cloud of cancerous smoke just to get to my metro station (L’Enfant Plaza is particularly bad for this). While I respect everyone’s right to smoke, I really wish smokers had more consideration for who their smoking affects. If you’re going to smoke, clean up after yourself. And try to not block major entrances/exits that people have to pass through.

      • FridayGirl


        • samanda_bynes

          yeah, common courtesy goes a long way, step away from buildings and don’t be a jerk. related, when i do smoke i tend to find the closest trash can after snubbing it out.

    • fka Shawess

      When I first got pregnant, cigarette smoke was the absolute worst smell I could encounter. Being five feet away from a lit cigarette could literally make me gag and uncontrollably cough and I could actually smell smoking from across the street. It certainly -felt- poisonous to be around it.

      • Anonymous

        Me too! And I am a former smoker. Such a weird thing. I could smell someone smoking 1/2 a block up from me and would have to cross the street. There has to be something to that phenomenon.

  • Anonymous

    Cigarette butts have always been seen differently than other forms of trash. (I don’t understand it either.) People who would never toss aside a water bottle or fast food wrapper think nothing of flicking their butts onto the sidewalk.
    “The world is not your ashtray,” I always say.

  • bobby

    This drives me crazy too! Its worse than other types of litter because of the amount of toxins in each one.

  • Jimmy

    Is there no place for them to place the butts? Maybe you should tell the building that they should get an ashtray for the outside to stop the littering. Then you can move on with your life and worry about bigger things like homelessness or donate some time to a soup kitchen.

    • Philippe Lecheval

      I think a lot of building management types have this warped idea that if you take away the ashtrays, people will magically quit smoking or do it someplace else. Instead, you end up with a mess of butts littering the area. When ashtrays are present, smokers use them as they’re conditioned to.

      • anonymous

        When you discover that society is no longer placing ashtrays all over the place for you (i.e., phase out of ashtrays in cars, etc), maybe it is time to think about why society doesn’t want to help you with your costly habit, hmmm? And when I say costly, I mean the costs you impose on others around you. I’m ok with smokers killing themselves with cigarettes, but I’d much prefer they do it with no one else around them, including children, pets, and me!

        • Philippe Lecheval

          ^ Perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s a highly addictive substance. If you want to be rid of it completely, outlaw it and enforce it heavily.

      • JoDa

        They did this at a college a friend attended, along with a campus-wide email that said “we would prefer if you smoked OFF CAMPUS.” (Before the days of “smoke free” workplaces/campuses/etc. …heck, the dorms still had smoking floors!) It took about 2 weeks for them to put the ashtrays back.

    • K

      this is a pet peeve of mine. dismissing seemingly small problems because their not large issues. littering is a real problem in our world. wanting to live and work in a clean area is not nothing.

      • Katie

        I completely agree- if this post had just been about littering, would anyone be telling the OP to stop whining and worry about the homeless instead? Gives some credence to the “entitled” label… The OP isn’t suggesting people shouldn’t be able to smoke, but that they should be more responsible with how they dispose of their trash- I’ve seen people walk yards away to throw away a piece of paper, then turn and throw their butt on the ground next to the trash can.

        • Anony

          Yes yes yes.

      • C.

        Your seemingly small problem is grammar… and let me tell you, it’s a real problem in our world!

    • navyard

      When I was an a-hole smoker in college, a kind person who saw me flick my butt stopped, bent down and picked it up, rubbed it along the pavement to knock off the burning tip and the remaining paper and tobacco, then took the filter and put it in his pants pocket. All during this time, he respectfully explained that the filters are not bio-degradable, so it’s best to just pick up the filter and put it in your pocket until you can get to a trash can.
      I’m just saying you don’t actually NEED an ashtray to safely get rid of your waste.

    • purplepalace

      OP here . . . Jimmy, maybe the smokers should tell the building that they need ashtrays. And I’m not “worried” about this issue . . . I’m annoyed by the entitlement displayed by so many smokers (e.g., unless someone else arranges an ashtray for me I’m entitled to litter). And as one who’s put in years as a volunteer for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (fighting homelessness . . . check) and Common Good City Farm (not quite a soup kitchen, but fighting food insecurity . . . check), and who has spent the last 15 years working for nonprofits doing social justice work, making half of what I’d be making at a law firm, I say with confidence that I think I’m doing my part to help address the “bigger” problems our society is facing. But thanks for your thoughtful advice.

  • FridayGirl

    It’s really amazing how *ultra* defensive most of these responses have been (compared to the normal level of disagreement usually found on posts like this). Way to support the OPs position unintentionally, guys.

    • LittleBluePenguin

      I was just going to say this! Boy, you can tell who the smokers on here are!

      • FKA ParkViewRes

        And it’s kind of strange because there is really no possible argument to defend smoking. I totally understand it’s an addiction, but people can and do quit. I guess I am just extremely anti-smoking having grown up in a smoking household. I find it to be one of the most disgusting habits.

  • textdoc

    “I know of no other group of adults that would and do get away with such habitual littering.” I take it you haven’t spent much time along Georgia Avenue?
    I think it’s true that many people who probably wouldn’t litter with other items (snack wrappers, soda cans, etc.) don’t think that cigarette butts count as litter. (Though that wouldn’t account for empty packaging.) I’d ask the building management if they can place an ashtray or two outside the building.

    • Katie

      I think this is exactly the point actually- a lot of smokers would probably look with disdain on someone who threw other types of litter on the ground on Georgia Ave- they might even feel that disdain as they casually threw their cigarette on the same exact ground…

      • alpinepaq

        ^ this. This is the whole point of the post. There is a double standard, and the OP is observing that. I think we can agree that it exists. The fact that smoking is addictive, or that property managers perhaps should have more receptacles out, doesn’t take away from the fact that throwing a butt on the ground is a socially “acceptable” thing to do, whereas throwing a candy wrapper is seem as littering.

  • Andy

    I totally agree with this! It is the strangest thing that cigarette butts are not obviously treated as litter.

    If I finish something that isn’t fully consumed when I’m done with it and throw it in the street, people would look at me like a crazy man, e.g., finish a soda bottle, sandwich wrapper, dead batteries, an extra Safeway bag, etc., and toss it in the grass.

    But if it’s a cigarette butt there’s just sort of a preternatural right to put your trash on the ground and walk away without any accountability.

    It seems like one more odd leftover from a long history of everyone smoking everywhere.

  • tbh

    As an occasional smoker and environmental protection advocate, I’ve found myself in this predicament before. In many cases, littering butts has nothing to do with this sense of entitlement you describe. The problem is, there is nowhere to put butts. It’s not a good idea to put a burning cigarette into a trash can, and most places around DC do not have cig disposal infrastructure. Whereas one can carry trash around for a few blocks until a trash can is found, it’s even fouler than smoking to carry an extinguished butt around, and extremely unlikely that the smoker will actually find a cigarette disposal.
    Petition your council members to put more cigarette disposals around the city. Duh.

    • Anonymous

      When I change my car’s oil on my street parking space I can just dump it down the storm drain then, since there aren’t a lot of convenient recycle locations near me?? This is the worst reasoning ever and possibly you are just trolling with an argument such as this

    • Krampus

      “The problem is, there is nowhere to put butts. It’s not a good idea to put a burning cigarette into a trash can,…”
      Come on Einstein, this is so easy. You extinguish the cigarette before putting it in the trash can.

      • Krampus

        And shame on me for reacting to a troll. At least I hope you are trolling.

    • textdoc
      • Krampus

        I’d be careful suggesting this depending on the context. If you think your smoking colleagues smell bad now, just wait until they have a container full of butts in their pocket. (Because you know they’re not going to empty it but once every few days.)

        • Krampus

          Or they’ll empty it in their office trash can.

    • fka Shawess

      “Whereas one can carry trash around for a few blocks until a trash can is found, it’s even fouler than smoking to carry an extinguished butt around, and extremely unlikely that the smoker will actually find a cigarette disposal.” Disagree. If dog owners can carry dog poop bags to the closest public garbage can, smokers can do the same with extinguished butts.

      • LittleBluePenguin


  • DCDuchess

    Cigarette butts are gross looking, yes. But in some parts of DC, the McD’s wrappers, empty iced tea & water bottles, and chicken bones are much more unsightly. I have seen people throw paper bags full of trash outside the cars. Some serious litterbugs in this city.

  • wdc

    You’re right, I guess we HAVE beaten up on dog owners, parents, cyclists, and drivers a lot lately. It’s definitely time to beat up on someone new, in a completely tired and stale way that will change nothing at all. Enjoy the same exchanges that were had last time we did this! I’ll give it a miss, this time. Someone let me know if anything new happens. (LOL, yea, right)

  • shmoo

    Its not too difficult to pinch out the burning end of a smoke onto the ground (ie, just the cherry and a little bit of tobacco that is lost to the wind eventually) and then toss the butt into the garbage can. This is what I do. That being said, ive gotten screamed at numerous times by folks who tell me im going to start a trash can fire and burn the city down… Been doing this for close to 20 years and I have not lit one can on fire ever.

    That being said, I look at cig smoke like I look at crying kids, car exhaust, and hobos… no reason to complain because all the bitching in the world will not stop people from enjoying their delicious, killer, and disgusting ciggies (i say this as a self aware smoker).

  • Chris

    I used to smoke, and when there wasn’t an ashtray or cigarette receptacle- yes I used to just throw my butt wherever. Honestly, it’s not something I ever really thought about, I just did it. Cigarette butts are such small things that you’re littering doesn’t really cross your mind in the moment, or for some, they just plain don’t care. Don’t think it’s entitlement so much as stubborn ignorance (not that that’s better).

    I’d suggest to your building’s management that they either place an ashtray or some other kind of receptacle out there, or ask them to do something about the smokers who are littering. The majority of smokers will use them ash trays if they’re there. Taking them away doesn’t discourage smoking as others have pointed out. Pondering a smoker’s seeming sense of entitlement (say that out loud, it’s fun) on a blog will do little to nothing.

  • CapitalDame

    I would recommend requesting building management put in an ashtray. THEN, if they don’t use it, they’re selfish jerks. That said, isn’t there a law about how many feet you have to be to smoke in front of a building entrance or exit? It’s possible (albeit unlikely) that building management doesn’t have one there for that reason.

    • Krampus

      “That said, isn’t there a law about how many feet you have to be to smoke in front of a building entrance or exit?”
      I may be wrong about this, but I seem to recall that although buildings may have signs prohibiting it, it’s not actually a law.

      • CapitalDame

        I think it actually is, though in a 10 second google search, this is the most recent piece I found so I could easily be wrong: http://wamu.org/news/13/10/02/with_new_bill_smokers_have_fewer_places_to_light_up_in_dc

        It basically says that building owners have the right to post a sign prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of an entrance or exit. The only place I ever saw it enforced was in grad school where security officers would shoo people away from the entrance of a building if they were smoking.

        • Krampus

          A little googling and I think you’re right, it is a law. What I’m thinking of is that there’s no enforcement mechanism. So a building can post the sign, but according to one article, “There are no fines associated with violating a “no smoking” sign, no mechanism for a police officer to write a ticket and no authority for a security guard to move a smoker along.”

          • PropMgr

            DC law prohibits smoking within 25 feet of a building entrance, if the building owner installs a sign stating this.

        • Krampus
  • KenyonDweller

    You sure can tell who the smokers and non-smokers are.

  • CapitalDame

    And yes, I am aware that its annoying for you (a nonsmoker) to have to request an ashtray that you won’t actually use… but its for the best if you don’t want the litter everywhere.

  • The OP Anon

    Old Altoid tins make for great portable ashtrays. People use those all the time when camping or at festivals like Burning Man. Easy to take along with you and empty out later when you get back home or to your office desk.
    There’s zero need to litter cig butts. You can also just stub them out and walk one whole block to find a trash can.

    • samanda_bynes

      shit that’s a good diea

  • Petworth resident

    I’m with you. Sometimes, if I’m out walking or riding my bike, I’ll say (or shout over) to the smoker after they throw their butt on the ground, “Excuse me! You dropped your cigarette butt! Don’t you want to make sure you have it? You don’t want to forget it, do you?” etc. OK, I know that’s passive-aggressive. But it bothers me that most (but not all) people think they should use a garbage can after, say, eating a candy bar on the street, but with a cigarette butt, oh well that – “That can just go right on the ground where I am. It’s somebody else’s responsibility to clean up after me.” It’s such a dirty habit, and I don’t know why smokers have to subject the rest of us to it as well. It pollutes in multiple ways. It’s not as if the rest of us can stop breathing when we pass by smokers. It’s a habit smokers necessarily have to share with the rest of us.

  • V

    Buy a plastic bucket from home depot. fill with sand. stick a sign in it that says “cig butts”. be a part of the solution.

    • ObserverDC

      So you are volunteering to empty it routinely? I just love John smokers,think that smoking should not just be tolerated, but actively enabled.

      Another solution might be a few $500 littering citations.

      • ObserverDC

        And I love Siri early in the morning almost as much. More coffee time.

  • anon

    “I know of no other group of adults that would and do get away with such habitual littering.”

    I take it you’ve never been to Columbia Heights.

  • Reality

    I agree with OP. Cigarette butts are disgusting and it’s not hard to dispose of properly.


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