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Robert Barron column: Cigarette-butt tossers should face heavy fines

He was militant against smokers who toss cigarette butts out their car windows
Robert’s column

A former editor of mine was a chain smoker.

My meetings with him were usually held outdoors in the rear of the newspaper office so he could smoke as we chatted.

It was hard on him to no longer be allowed to smoke in his office, as he had for most of his career up to that point, because the new and harsh smoking regulations began taking effect in the early 2000s that prevented people from smoking in most public spaces.

But he knew he must follow the rules and be a leader in the office, so he suffered through the new workplace reality and put up with getting rained and snowed on regularly in the backyard as he tried to continue to enjoy his ongoing bad habit.

My editor recognized that he and other smokers were being villainized by society as the full impacts of the health consequences of smoking were becoming more well known, particularly to nonsmokers, and it bothered him that something he had enjoyed with few problems since he was a kid was now a major issue, with many people looking down their noses at him for it.

That’s why he was militant against smokers who toss cigarette butts out their car windows, especially during dry periods like we are currently experiencing on Vancouver Island.

I remember he would rant and rave every time reports came in of fires started in the dry grass and/or bushes at the side of roads that were started by careless smokers throwing still-lit cigarettes from their cars.

A video from a security camera of two men working in a backyard that I watched recently clearly illustrates the dangers of cigarettes around dry kindling.

One of the workers was smoking and when he reached the butt, he took some time rubbing it into the dirt and other materials at the base of a large hedge to make sure it was fully extinguished before leaving it.

It should be said that the smoker was trying to be responsible by ensuring his cigarette was out, but a whole six hours later, the video shows a tiny flame poke up through the dirt and debris where the cigarette butt was supposedly put out in the now empty backyard, a flame that quickly leapt up into the hedge and, within mere seconds, the whole hedge was on fire.

Luckily, the homeowner was nearby and called 911 before trying to tackle the fire with his garden hose.

The fire was eventually doused with no damage to the home, but it could have been a lot worse if the homeowner hadn’t intervened.

My editor, a life-long smoker with no intention of ever quitting, took offence to these types of cigarette-caused fires and would write columns in the newspaper about the issue and condemn and mock his fellow smokers for being so stupid as to throw butts out their windows, stating they should be issued steep fines for their carelessness.

He would even have me take pictures of his hand holding a lit cigarette out his car window to show smokers what not to do to get his point across.

That’s why I’m sure my editor, who died in 2005 from cancer, would have fully agreed with the decision of the Saanich police department to ticket a driver who threw a cigarette butt out his car window $575 last week to serve as a reminder of the dangers attached to improper cigarette disposal amid dry conditions and extreme provincial forest fire ratings.

My editor may have been a life-long chain smoker, starting back in a time when commercials would be on the air stating that three out of four doctors smoke Camel cigarettes, but he was also a conscientious member of the community who would not purposely harm anyone.

He stood outside in the elements to smoke his cigarettes in the back of the newspaper office not only because he had to if he wanted to smoke, but also because he didn’t want to cause any adverse health and other impacts to his employees or anyone else.

He would have given a medal to the police officer who issued the $575 ticket.

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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