Henrico County VA

Butt out

Assembly tables Morrissey's cigarette bill for second straight year

Would a $100 fine and community service time stop you from flicking your cigarette butt out of your car window? Henrico Del. Joseph Morrissey, D-47th, thinks so.

For the second year, Morrissey has proposed to include cigarettes in an established bill prohibiting litter on public property or private property without consent. Any violator would be required to perform community service in litter activities and pay a $100 penalty to the Litter Control and Recycling Fund.

“The biggest pollutant in the Chesapeake Bay area is cigarette butts,” Morrissey said. “Consider an Olympic size swimming pool. Imagine eight of them filled to the brim with cigarette butts. That is what is flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. A lot of people who litter cigarettes don’t even think that they are doing anything wrong.”

Although the courts of justice criminal sub-committee tabled the bill, HB114, on Monday by a voice vote, Morrissey said that he would try again to snuff his pet peeve during the 2013 Assembly.

“It’s a killing field for Democratic bills,” Morrissey said. “You know what I think will happen? Next year some Republican is going to come along and sponsor the bill and get it passed. And that’s fine with me. Just as long as bill is passed, I don’t care who gets the credit for it.”

Del. Ron Villanueva, R-21st, who is a member of the courts of justice criminal sub-committee, said in an email that the bill would be impossible to enforce.

Another member of that sub-committee, Del. Vivian Watts, D-39th, said the bill had been put aside for further work.

“My opinion of the bill is generally positive,” Watts said. “But, we need to make sure that this is the appropriate way to treat one type of littler compared to another.”

The majority of people do not think about cigarette butts in the same way as a larger piece of litter such as a cheeseburger wrapper, said Jessica Barton, Virginia Grassroots coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“We find a lot of cigarette butts when we do stream and highway cleanups,”

Barton said. “Anything that washes into the storm drain off of the sidewalks goes straight into the streams and is a direct pollutant. The nicotine leaches into the waterways and researchers have even found traces of nicotine in fish.”

Barton said that she had agreed with Morrissey’s bill and that she had thought it would deter people away from throwing cigarettes on the ground. But there also needed to be a component of education associated with the bill, she said.

“I think there’s a missing link here,” Barton said. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but people need to be educated because they typically don’t think twice about throwing cigarettes on the ground.”
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