Monday, 19 February 2007

Butt-police bust smokers

An article found its way to my desktop this morning that made me a little angry. Just a little. Amused and angry, or bemused and angry. I am sure you know the feeling. It concerned the initiative of a district of Seoul to get tough on litterbugs. If you have ever lived in Seoul you will know the scale of the problem. If you have never lived in Seoul, then just let me say that the term litter “bug” is totally inadequate. Try littermonsters.
The district of Gangnam, a swanky area south of the Han River, recently made a huge amount of money doling out instant fines to one particular genre of litterbug – the cigarette smoker. Toss a butt in the street and you were slapped with a 50,000 won ($45) fine. Toss a bag of garbage and the inspectors would probably search it for butts, anxious to bust another butt bandit. After sorting through three day old vegetable matter and other household crud, I can just imagine their disappointment at not finding any incriminating cigarette ends.
The writer of the article was full of praise for the initiative, and sympathized with the butt-police who frequently faced abuse from smokers, reluctant to admit culpability and hand over the fine. The writer poured scorn on the best excuse the smokers could come up with: There are no rubbish bins! Pathetic. No excuse. Evicted onto the street from non-smoking buildings, where else is the smoker going to throw the butt if there are no rubbish bins? No excuse. Just don’t smoke. No smoke, no butt, no fine. Simple. And so said an obviously self-righteous former smoker.
I agree, tossing garbage – any garbage – and that includes cigarette butts onto the street is an antisocial, nasty practice. And it is bad for the environment. But isn’t it just a tad more practical to provide rubbish bins? Is that too logical?
After all, Gangnam can afford the bins now.

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