POW! Superman to Kick Butt over Cigarette Littering!
This was my first impression when I glanced at a headline of the venerable ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Daily News of 19 August 2020. But then I realised I was indulging in wishful thinking. The actual wording was, ‘Pow threatens tobacco firms over litter.’
Pow is the surname of the Conservative MP for the constituency of Taunton Deane—her first name is Rebecca—who is also a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.
In her role as Parliamentary Under Secretary she has taken on the responsibility of trying to grapple with the serious problem of cigarette littering. She does this by sending deferential letters to the likes of Philip Morris, the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, and Japan Tobacco International, in which she addresses the respective people as Patrick, Rupert, and Charlie.
These letters are available on the UK Government website, and but they don’t inspire much confidence in dealing with the problem.
Here are some extracts:
Smoking related litter is a particularly persistent and widespread problem.
So it is, but the word ‘particularly’ is redundant. She continues:
…the Government is prepared to extend the offer of a roundtable (sic) discussion between various stakeholders, including tobacco product manufacturers.
If we cannot progress this discussion at this roundtable, we will have to reflect on what steps the Government can take going forward to ensure that the tobacco industry takes increasing responsibility for the litter that its products create.
This will have Philip Morris, the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, and Japan Tobacco International quaking in their boots! The Government threatens, unless progress is made at the round table, that it will reflect on what steps it can take, but not only that, it will reflect on what steps it can take going forward!
The Government is not, presumably, going to reflect on what steps it can take going backward, but with this supine approach it might as well be doing so.
The letters to Charlie and Rupert end with the statement of a modest aim:
It remains the Government’s vision to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.
And note how she wants the tobacco industry not just to take responsibility, but to take increasing (!) responsibility, for the litter that its product create. How much responsibility, then, would Rebecca be satisfied with?
You might as well blame McDonald’s for the litter that its products create. But is it McDonald’s fault if their customers irresponsibly throw away the packaging in which their takeaway food and drink is given to them? Is it the tobacco manufacturers’ fault if smokers throw their cigarette butts on the ground or into drains?
Although cigarettes may be as deadly, why are they regarded as a natural disaster like, say, floods or Covid-19? Although it may be difficult to resist the urge to smoke, smoking is a voluntary activity. It is, therefore, smokers who need to be adjured under risk of penalty to take responsibility, or even to take increasing responsibility, not to treat the ground wherever they happen to be as a public ashtray.
Text © Gabriel Symonds