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updated: 12/14/2013 5:27 PM

Tossing cigarette butts added to state litter law

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Associated Press

GALESBURG -- Cigarette butts will be considered litter in Illinois beginning Jan. 1, but police in at least one city say enforcing the new law will be a challenge.

Galesburg officials agree cigarette butts are not only unsightly but can clog storm and sewer pipes.

Police Chief David Christensen told The (Galesburg) Register-Mail that when officers see it happen, they'll write citations, but there won't be a special patrol.

He expects verbal warnings will deter scofflaws.

"If an officer spots someone flagrantly discarding a cigarette butt, I suspect they'd be told to pick it up and then some kind of violation would be issued," Christensen said. "But are we going to assign someone to cigarette butt patrol? I doubt that."

Lawmakers added cigarette butts to anti-litter laws last spring and Gov. Pat Quinn signed the measure into law in August. First-time offenders could face a fine of up to $1,500 and a Class B misdemeanor. The second-offense penalty remains at $1,500 but it becomes a Class A misdemeanor. Those who violate the law three or more times will get slapped with a fine up to $25,000 and possibly go to prison for one to three years.

The penalties might seem steep, but few would question the problems they cause -- from unsightliness to a city official's nightmare. Public Works Director Larry Cox says automobile ashtrays often get dumped and pose problems for storm runoff inlets and the sewer system.

"We see more of that than we'd like," Cox said. " ... Trash and other kinds of litter just don't go away."

The newspaper reports that studies back up that concern. The nonprofit Keep America Beautiful indicated cigarette butts are the most common type of litter and accounted for 40 percent of all roadway litter in 2009. In a 2011 study, the journal Tobacco Control estimated small-city costs for removing cigarette butts is nearly $3 million a year; for larger cities and urban areas, the cost jumps to $15 million annually.

Before the change in state law, a cigarette butt was never specifically mentioned as litter.

"The answer has always been yes it is because the filter is not biodegradable," said Rob Copley, police chief in Quincy. "But there was always this gray area if it was litter."

Aldermen this week began considering adding the infraction to city ordinances, allowing police to also issue a city violation, according to the Quincy Herald-Whig. The proposed ordinance, on which aldermen could act Dec. 23, specifically mentions cigarette filters, which are not specifically included in the state law.

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