Keeping Tahlequah beautiful means keeping the public parks clean, and dozens of students from schools in Cherokee County converged on Sequoyah City Park Wednesday to take part in the Kick Butts campaign.
The annual hunt for cigarette butts is always fruitful, to the dismay of some of the gatherers.
“This park is more infested than it should be with cigarette butts,” said Elizabeth Martinez, a sixth-grader at Tahlequah Middle School. “There isn’t supposed to be tobacco or cigarette butts, but people do it, anyway. I’m surprised, because I visited another park the other day, and there were hardly any butts in that one.”
Carol Choate, director of the Cherokee County Communities of Excellence Tobacco Control Program, said Kick Butts is a national event aimed at removing litter and enhancing public awareness of the hazards of tobacco use.
“We want to address three issues with smoking in the park,” Choate said. “The cigarette butts create litter. There is second-hand smoke, which the Surgeon General says is deleterious to the health of others. Smoking in parks also doesn’t set a good example for young people.”
Though smoking in city parks is against Tahlequah ordinance, the students find hundreds of butts at the annual event. Other litter was also removed, but the student gathering the most butts received a $10 gift certificate to Walmart.
“We picked up almost 4,000 butts at the first event five years ago,” Choate said. “We find less each year, but that is unscientific, of course. We may have picked up 50 years worth of butts at the first Kick Butts. We want to change the social norm, and also remind people of the ordinance.”
Participants were members of Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) at their respective schools. Each received a T-shirt and hot dogs were served.
“SWAT does all kinds of activities throughout the year,” said Dana Hutson of Hulbert Public Schools. “You have to be 12 to be in SWAT, but we have a group that speaks to the younger students. We explain some of the ingredients in tobacco. We want people to be aware of what they are putting into their bodies.”
Hutson brought 15 students from Hulbert.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but it takes about 25 years for a cigarette butt to decompose on its own,” she said.
“People throw them down all the time without thinking about it.”
TMS student Cassidy Spears, bearing a baggie full of butts, had a suggestion for people who insist on smoking in the park.
“If you’re going to smoke, at least don’t leave your remains out here,” she said. “Throw them away.”
Cigarette butts are the most common litter item in the United States. Keep America Beautiful estimates 4.5 trillion butts are discarded each year in the U.S. Improper disposal presents a fire hazard and most filters contain plastic cellulose acetate, which is not biodegradable.
For more information about Students Working Against Tobacco and the Cherokee County Communities of Excellence Tobacco Control Program, write to Choate at email@example.com.