I had a busy day today with several urban destinations, so I shouldn’t be at all surprised that I was nearly hit by flying cigarette butts twice, one coming from a moving car, the other from a more or less stationary person. Both times, I was seized by the same foolish and possibly suicidal impulse: to pick up the butt and fling it back at who done flung it.

Here’s what I find weird. Maybe a smoker out there can enlighten me. Why do so many people who don’t otherwise litter seem to think nothing of tossing cigarette butts, stubbed or even lit?

I don’t think it’s terribly hard to dispose of them properly. (Not that inconvenience seems like much of an excuse) I don’t think anybody has any illusions about them being anything other than litter. The filters aren’t very biodegradable (not that biodegradability is much of an excuse for littering), and there’s nobody collecting the butts to turn them in for the deposit. (There I go again with the wacky social economic incentive plans…)

For lack of any direct or even indirect evidence, I offer a crackpot theory: Parents don’t teach their children to smoke. That is to say, when parents teach children to do something, like eat a slice of pizza, for example, they usually make an effort to instruct their young on how to best dispose of the paper plate (soaked in orange grease), napkins and unwanted crust. If young people learn to smoke from slightly older young people (who learned when they were slightly younger…) they might not get the most responsible instruction, and since they probably try to hide their smoking from their parents for a while, they don’t get corrected. Thus, all manner of otherwise responsible adults who smoke carry on with the (even more) irresponsible habit of tossing butts.

Bogus or not so bogus? Perhaps someone will let us in on the straight dope. In the mean time, if you have any doubts about the awfulness of tossing butts, read on: Litterbutt seeks to punish butt-tossers as the litterbugs they are. The NY Times on a campaign to eliminate butt litter. Philip Morris tries to make sure you don’t make a mess while paying them to help kill you. Whyquit on two billion butts a day. Many diverse opinions, but none quite as crackpot as mine, at Metafilter. (pun?)