Who does this kind of thing? Especially with all that is now known about the fragility of the planet? Research is sparse, but thanks to studies funded by big tobacco companies we know quite a bit about the nature of the littering smoker.
Smokers do not like to see ashtray dumping any more than I do. In fact they are appalled by the behavior of these ignorant smokers. Yet they wouldn't think twice about flicking a butt to the curb if an ashtray wasn't in sight. Smokers do not define that act as littering. To them it's a legitimate means of disposal. That’s just how it's done, so they think.
When they grind, stomp and mash a lit butt into the pavement or against the side of a building, flick it into a puddle, gulley or snow bank; they believe they are doing a good turn. They are preventing a fire.
Almost double the number of smokers litter than do not: 65/35 out of 100. They give a number of pat excuses for their tobacco littering. No point in repeating their excuses, far more interesting to peer behind the cop-outs to find the real reason why people litter, smokers with even greater proclivity.
Breaking science offers up a few clues. Two telling studies may help unlock the mystery and identify markers of a predisposition to littering.
Ph.D. biz whiz Andy Yap's work on power stances correlates one's physical space and body language to the tendency to break rules. A series of tests proved that one's cortisol and testosterone levels changed with the adoption of Yap's two sets of body configurations. In turn, feelings of power and entitlement grew within the subject’s mind when after sitting or standing in the classic “Type A” personality postures Yap's team developed. Occupying a vast space behind a big desk or in the big front seat of a vehicle, for example, Yap shows, increases the likelihood of that person speeding, pilfering from the office or cheating.
I contacted Andy Yap. He quickly wrote back to validate my hypothesis that his work can aptly be applied to littering.
Sheila, he says, “I think that the psychology of power does have some implications for littering. If littering works the same way as other corrupt and anti-social behaviors, then power would cause people to do whatever they want and disregard the rules and laws there are in place.
“Anything that creates this feeling of power, be it posture, actual rank, or simply recalling a time one felt powerful can create strong feelings of power.”
Also three separate studies, in New Zealand, US and England, are rewriting our understanding of what causes the unruly child as a result of looking into maternal smoking in pregnancy. They conclude mom’s prenatal smoking is related to "conduct disorders" in those children. Team leader Gordon Harold, PhD, of the University of Leicester in England, reports their independent findings in JAMA Psychiatry 2013.
What if we could predict and had early detection for litterers? In my imaginary litter-less world, if your mom stupidly smoked during pregnancy, if you strut your power stances and the interior space around you is oversized, or if you lacked experiences with nature through environmental education, you’d automatically be rolled into the Litter Prevention Program regardless of your age.
Non-littering behaviors can be learned.