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Friday, January 31, 2014

California Assemblyman Tries To Ban Filtered Cigarettes

(Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Assemblyman Mark Stone’s legislation is aimed at getting rid of cigarette litter. (Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Mark Stone, a California Assemblyman, has introduced a bill to ban the sale of filtered cigarettes. Under the legislation, anyone selling filtered cigarettes could face a $500 fine.

Stone tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that he wants to rid the state of litter that poisons wildlife and children.

“What I’m trying to do is get rid of that little plastic filter,” he said. “It’s the single most found item on beach cleanups, river cleanups. Look in any city — gutters, parks, everywhere.”

Interview Highlights: Asm. Mark Stone

On the prevalence and risk of cigarette litter

“The problem has become really an environmental catastrophe all over the world. Because smoking is such a throwaway activity, that the filters, which are made of plastic, that’s cellulose acetate, and they persist in the environment for years and years after they’ve been tossed away, and that environmental damage is what we’re trying to address.”

“When wildlife eats the plastic bits, they don’t pass them through, so they stay in their systems, especially with birds, and will slowly starve to death. Pets will eat them, dogs especially, and there are thousands of instances of children eating them. And recognize that as the smoke gets drawn through the filter, plastic is a fairly good absorber of toxins, so the toxins that get put into that plastic through the smoking process stay, and anyone who ingests them then is also ingesting those toxins.”

On how to best address the issue

“We’re fighting the sellers because they’re the ones in charge of the distribution mechanism, and what the law is essentially about is saying filters would not be welcome in California. California has some pretty strict litter laws. In fact, if you throw a cigarette from a car, if you tap the ashes out a car window, the fine is $1,000. A thousand dollars, and yet that doesn’t stop people at all. They don’t think twice about tossing a cigarette out of a car. The smokers that I talk to recognize that it is a throwaway habit and don’t even think about it as they toss a cigarette away. The litter laws are already on the books, but have had very, very little effect.”

“Enforcement could be better — could be a lot better. But is it for the legislature to ask the police forces, who are already strapped and working on solving crimes and violent crimes, to stop and go give tickets for littering? I don’t think the answer is throwing more money at law enforcement to go enforce the laws. What we need to do is just get rid of the filters themselves.”

On the challenges ahead

“I’m fully expecting the tobacco industry to be very concerned. One of the interesting things is that the filters themselves provide no health benefit at all. The surgeon general’s been very, very clear about that. And the smokers that I’ve been talking to, for them, it’s a matter of taste and texture that the filter provides. So in some ways, if you think it through, the cigarette companies are allowed to put very cheap, kinda gnarly tobacco in the cigarette that is filtered, because it smooths out the flavor. They might be required to put in better tobacco into an unfiltered cigarette, and the smokers themselves would have to move away from the filtered cigarette. But the smokers that I talked to, they will fight this, because that’s what they do. But most of them say if it passed, they’d move to off to unfiltered cigarettes.”

Guest

  • Mark Stone, Democratic member of the California State Assembly, representing District 29, the Monterey Bay area. He tweets @AsmMarkStone.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW.

Nearly all the cigarettes sold in this country and around the world are filtered cigarettes. They are, in fact, no safer than unfiltered cigarettes. But a plan introduced this month in California would ban just the filtered ones. The plan comes from Assemblyman Mark Stone, and he's with us from Sacramento. Mark Stone, why do you want ban filtered cigarettes?

MARK STONE: Well, it's just the filters on cigarettes. Cigarettes don't have to be manufactured with the filter. And the problem has become really an environmental catastrophe all over the world. Because smoking is such a throwaway activity that the filters, which are made of plastic - cellulose acetate - and they persist in the environment for years and years after they've been tossed away. And that environmental damage is what we're trying to address.

HOBSON: And if the cigarettes didn't have the filters on them, it wouldn't be a problem because people would just toss their papers-wrapped-around tobacco on the ground, and they would, what, biodegrade?

STONE: It would much less of a problem. Yes, the paper is very thin and light and falls apart fairly quickly. The tobacco then also would just dissipate into the environment. But what I'm trying to do is get rid of that little plastic filter. It's the single most found item on beach cleanups, river cleanups. Look in any city - gutters, parks, everywhere.

HOBSON: When I see that also children often end up putting these cigarette butts in their mouths.

STONE: They do, children, pets, wildlife. When wildlife eats the little plastic bits, they don't pass them through. So they stay in their systems, especially with birds, and will slowly starve to death. Pets will eat them, dogs especially, and there are thousands of instances of children eating them. And recognize that as the smoke gets drawn through the filter, plastic is a fairly good absorber of toxins. So the toxins that get put into that plastic through the smoking process stay, and anyone who ingests them then is also ingesting those toxins.

HOBSON: But wouldn't you be better off fining people who throw these on the ground rather than fining the sellers of a product that is legal and that people buy?

STONE: We're fighting the sellers because they're the ones in charge of the distribution mechanism. And what the law is essentially about is saying, filters would not be welcome in California. California has some pretty strict litter laws. In fact, if you throw a cigarette from a car, if you tamp the ashes out of a car window, the fine is a thousand dollars, a thousand dollars, and yet that doesn't stop people at all. They don't think twice about tossing a cigarette out of a car. The smokers that I talk to recognize that it is a throwaway habit and don't even think about it as they toss a cigarette away. The litter laws are already on the books, but have had very, very little effect.

HOBSON: Because they're not being enforced? Because I think about California as a place that does enforce a lot of laws that they don't enforce in other states such as jaywalking laws.

STONE: Yes, and it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. There are probably about 10,000 citations a year that are given for - just for cigarette littering. Enforcement could be better - could be a lot better. But is it for the legislature to ask the police forces who are already strapped and working on solving crimes and violent crimes to stop and go give tickets for littering? I don't think the answer is throwing more money at law enforcement to go enforce the laws. What we need to do is just get rid of the filters themselves.

HOBSON: Now, it's not going to be easy for you to do this, I assume. You're going to face opposition, not just from smokers who don't want to have their rights to buy filtered cigarettes away, but also probably from the tobacco industry.

STONE: I'm fully expecting the tobacco industry to be very concerned. One interesting things is that the filters themselves provide no health benefit at all. The surgeon general's been very, very clear about that. And the smokers that I've been talking to, for them, it's a matter of taste and texture that the filter provides. So in some ways, if you think it through, the cigarette companies are allowed to put very cheap, kind of gnarly tobacco in the cigarette that is filtered because it smoothes out the flavor. They might be required to put in better tobacco into an unfiltered cigarette.

And the smokers themselves would have to move away from the filtered cigarette. But the smokers that I talked to, they will fight this because that's what they do. But most of them say if it passed, they'd move to off to unfiltered cigarettes. It doesn't sound like it's that big of an impact on this.

HOBSON: Are you going to tackle gum next?

STONE: Gum.

(LAUGHTER)

STONE: Another bugaboo. But a little bit, right now, less of an impact than the cigarette butt.

HOBSON: Mark Stone is an assemblyman, a Democrat, from California, joining us from Sacramento. Mark, thank you so much.

STONE: Thank you.

HOBSON: ...a Democrat from California joining us from Sacramento. Mark, thanks so much.

STONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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